"From Detroit, pretending to destroy themselves before anybody else could, came Iggy & The Stooges..." From Leeds, threatning to destroy everybody else in a multi-megaton pre-emptive strike, came The Sisters Of Mercy. Adam Sweeting has a terrifying experience with an extremly danerous group
Unleashed into the no-man's-land of Vanbrugh College dining room (c/o York University), The Sisters Of Mercy are four men in pursuit of renegade drum machine Dr Avalanche. No respecter of anything, the doctor careers ahead manically like slavering Doberman taking Norman Wisdom for a walk.
Attached to the mic like it was a failing life-support system is Spiggy, alias Andy, a skinny blackclad thing from the corners of the night, kept alive by ginger beer.
"These are the finest legs in rock'n'roll," he boasts later. "These legs are thinner than any of the Delta 5's legs. These legs are the thinnest in Leeds."
Spiggy has a high opinion of himself and his group, "We're not a provincial band, we're a MAJOR ENTITY. There's no reason we shoudl be compressed into this sort of hicks-from-the-sticks mentality, which is so damning. It's hard being a cult band when you really wanna be immense. There's no reason we shouldn't be able to carry on playing more or less like we do at the moment and be IMMENSE."
Soon you will be able to purchase a single from the Sisters called 'Adenochrome', a double A-side with 'Body Electric' (sing it!).
"'Adrenochrome' is like a theme for the band really," Spiggy reports, "inasmuch as I wake up a lot of mornings and I look at the wall, and I'm not sure if it's the wall or the ceiling, and I think, er, Hunter Thompson, he was twigging something."
As Dr Avalanche pumps through the PA like a battery of AK-47s, the bespectacled Ben Gunn cowers beind his guitar at the back of the stage. A slight a tremulous figure, how could he be caught up in this hideous barrage of sound? He won't tell me, and he won't have his picture taken.
Next to and in front of him, other guitarist Gary Marx has no such scruples. A burly figure in boots and thick socks, he storms and rages through the songs, flaying chords with his hands and crushing the stage with his feet. On bass, the stocky and stalwart Jon Langford seems to be in control of his new career - he used to drum for The Mekons.
And whatever you do, don't compare The Sisters Of Mercy to Bauhaus.
"We made a tape once and took it down to Rough Trade. Geoff Travis gaveit one llsiten, it was 18 minutes long, lotsa tracks, tapped his feet all the way through and turned round and said, 'It's like Bauhaus.'"
"You're continually coming up against people like that. They work in weird and wonderful ways, their marvels to perform."
Spiggy oozes a sickly sort of charisma, which is surprising considering his lank black hair and specs.
"All the people who have asked me for autographs have been under 16 and female. It's amazin, when you go out and play that raw sort of thing...it's not pretty."
Through the boiling rage of massed guitars and mechanik percussion, it's possible to discern the odd work that Spiggy is spitting out. Ah yes, "1969.."
Spig: "It's the first song off the Stooges album - the first album being the best, whatever The Birthday Party says."
The Sisters Of Mercy all-time order of merit: "There was one great heavy metal group and that was the Stooges, and there's only two bands around that can touch them, and they're Motorhead and The Birthday Party. We're not as good as Motorhead but we're better than The Birthday Party. That makes up pretty damn good."
Nineteeth greatest single of 1982 is the fabulous "Floorshow" by The Sisters of Mercy. The four Sisters hail from Leeds, have a killing sense of humour, can be quite difficult, and er, how long have they been around?
"What the hell does that matter?"
"No it isn't. Who the hell cares? You don't really care, we don't really care, and Joe Public knows already."
--No they don't, how do they know?
"Because they're aware."
--But I'm Joe Public, and I don't know.
"Well...if you need an answer, say...a year and a half in our present format. No two, say two. It's evolved; you can't put a year on it."
Prior to the current "Floorshow" (coupled with the slightly less startling "Alice") there have been two Sister singles, these being the intoxicatingly bizarre "Body Electric" b/w "Adrenochrome" from around February this year, and a mysterious debut ("To all intents and purposes it was a different band, and it really is best forgotten...") which absolutely no-one wants to talk about.
"Floorshow" though, is worth losing breath over. For its savage, swamping blanket of raw, grating guitars, deep, doom-ridden vocals and thunderously mechanical drum-machine make it a mercilessly wicked temptation for more adventurous souls from all manner of musical persuasions...
Lurking here is a real, almost awesomely huge potential. Trouble is, for some reason IT remains untapped, and could very easily stay that way. This mustn't happen.
--Did The Sisters intend to fill some sort of gap when they began all this?
"Yeah. I mean, we didn't think 'oh there's a gap, let's fill it'. We thought, well, this is what comes naturally to us, why isn't anyone else doing it? So we started up this thing with a really heavy drum machine, fuzz guitars a-go-go and tons of echo, and other people are taking it up so there must be a need for it; people are ripping us off left right and centre now."
--Already? As far as I know it's only been since February that people outside of Leeds have heard of you.
"Well, outside of the North. People in London think that unless somebody comes to them and plays it can't be any good at all. It never strikes them that maybe people don't want to play London for a year. I mean why the f*** should we play London? We can headline up north, so why should we appear fourth on the bill down here?"
--In what ways are people ripping you off?
"Every way; even our artwork gets ripped off. The only thing that's relevant about it is it's obviously a useful way we've constructed our sound, because other people are finding it useful too. Hopefully they'll like, take it away and use it for something slightly different."
--People have used drum-machines before though.
"Yeah, but only in a pathetically weedy way. We're hooked on them now...It's like the modern world; you've got really clinical, relentless backing, and you've got these really gritty things over the top, which in our case are fuzz-guitars."
--Don't you find the drum-machine restrictive?
"No. Certain sorts of discipline are very useful; the disciplines of a song for instance. "
"We just like juxtaposing things like that and playing things off against each other. It's nice, it's like trying to say something serious but doing it in an absurd way; which is the only logical response to the modern world, and especially to rock music."
--Is it rock music that you're rebelling against?
"No, we're using it. I mean groups generally don't recognise, or rather they try and forget, that there's a barrier between band and audience. They pretend it doesn't exist. What we do, we've got this really big barrier and it's really intricate and ornate, and elaborately decorated, and it's got BARRIER painted all over it; and it's a very funny thing, although it's quite serious."
"It's a much more honest way to approach things than pretending it doesn't exist, and this barrier is nebulous enough for people to make their own way through it whatever particular place they like."
--Shades of Pink Floyd?
"Absolutely not. They were just poncing about with pseudo-artistic artschool theories; they hadn't got a bloody clue, and they still haven't."
The Sisters of Mercy, incidentally, are Ben Gunn (guitar), Gary Marx (guitar), Craig Adams (bass), Doc Avalanche (the drum-machine) and Andrew Eldritch (vocals). It's Andrew who does all the talking, except on one or two odd occasions."
Merciful Release (also incidentally), the band's record label, is in fact their own creation; and it's through the enterprising Sisters that the March Violets and others will, and do have, their own singles released.
"We intend to be more of a production company than a record company," stresses Andy, but that's just rockist trivia: So back to the nitty gritty...
--Don't you think it's the artschool crowd who are attracted to you?
"No, absolutely not, because we're cleverer than they are, basically. They're too busy being serious; we're being silly and serious, if you like."
Ben: "They're into being really cosy and serious. I mean they know the subjects which they're talking about are serious, but they do it in such a way that they'll never change anything."
Andrew continues: "Every time they get really into something, they veer right away from the popular way of doing things, whereas we wallow in it."
--You don't sound at all "silly", you sound very serious in fact.
"Yeah, but okay, we (Andy and Ben) might sound serious talking to you with that tape machine running, but we both know that talking to you with a tape machine running is basically a very funny thing to do.
"...The problem with the modern world is the things that you dislike the most, are the things that you like the most. All the things that are the most destructive out there are the things which are the most beautiful, you can't deny it."
--Are you being serious?
"It's a perfectly serious statement."
--Because I don't know what you mean.
"..You've got to get to grips with the things which you're opposed to, otherwise you've got no way of dealing with them; it's a basic rule in life. You've got to realise that those things, these days, are intrinsically attractive; y'know, like napalm over acres of forest going whooosh! It's beautiful; you can't deny that it looks a-mazing! You know, I mean "Death Race 2000" - terrific! It's all very attractive."
--Would you say you stand pretty much alone in what you're doing?
"Yeah, I'd say so. I mean there's obvious reference points, but they're not the usual...They're not like a coherent range of reference points like you find with most bands; you know exactly what their range of reference is going to be. Ours come from all over the shop. The people we like are generally people with a sense of humour who make an extremely loud noise, or write wonderfully good tunes."
"Basically we're working with certain cliches, we're working with what you could call punk, what you could call heavy metal or glam, or whatever you want. We've recognised that, whatever we do, it's part of a tradition, just as every band ought to recognise that whatever they do it's still part of a tradition.
"I mean I know it seems we've developed this whole new way of doing things, but it's not, even if it does appear marginally inventive; it's just the counterpoints of a tradition. So what we're doing is acknowledging that."
--I've heard you don't like being compared to Bauhaus.
"...Well, I mean who does? I'm sure Bauhaus don't like being compared to Bauhaus these days. I mean they're dreadful, they've got no sense of humour, or at least if they have they don't use it in the right way."
--So you see no similarities in your sounds, in the vocals especially?
"No. The problem is these days there're so few people that sing in a low voice that...I mean, when I started singing people said 'ooh, he sounds just like Jim Morrison' and shortly after that they said 'ooh, he sounds just like Ian Curtis' and now it's Pete Murphy... So y'know in another year's time when people hear someone singing in a low voice they'll go 'hey, he sings like Andrew Eldritch..." Y'know, f***! (laughs) I mean no one says Boy George sounds like Gregory Isaacs. It's about as relevant."
--The trouble is through singing like that, no humour gets conveyed at all.
"The humour doesn't come across on the records because you just can't convey it. You have to tell a joke with a straight face basically."
--But the sleeves don't appear humorous either.
"Ah, I think the sleeves are very funny; I mean 'Body Electric' is a very funny sleeve. I mean it's a screaming Pope, you can't get much funnier than that."
--Look, are you trying to build some sort of mystique or...
"No, basically we've seen an awful lot of really boring interviews in the press, and we're determined not to say the things that usually get in. I mean we didn't really want you to know how long we've been going, not because it matters, but because we're keen to make our interviews a little more interesting than that; and if we waste part of an hour-and-a-half telling you how long we've been going, then... Do you see what I mean? You can say an awful lot of useful things in an hour-and-a-half if you want to, but not if we talk about Leeds and..."
Three days after the interview, Andy and I talked on the telephone. Not surprisingly, the main topic of our conversation was Mick Sinclair's less than favorable review of the band, published in Sounds that morning.
--Does it bother you at all Andy?
"It doesn't offend me in the least, I'm just sad for the general public. I mean at least he made his way out of the bar on occasions, most of the time they don't even manage to do that..."
"He's just not bothering to assume that what he's dealing with is any more interesting than what he saw the night before, or the night before that. And hence, nobody else thinks, 'well, it might be more interesting', and those who do think it's more interesting are encouraged to think that it isn't, and that it's as one-dimensional as everything else."
"I mean all the cliches, all the formats that we distort and manipulate, or rip-off if you like; we don't use any that we don't love, but we love them in a pretty disrespectful way, because we know how silly they are."
--The Sisters talk a lot about 'dry' jokes, so what if the review was a joke?
"Er, in that case it wasn't a very good joke. If you notice, nothing we ever say which is in a song that's supposed to be funny is ever the sort of thing which if taken at face-value does any harm. We're very careful about that. We don't ever propagate anything which in our books we regard as morally bad, even when you take a song at face-value."
--Would you say the Sisters are not just another rock'n'roll band?
"No, we are. Anybody who says they're not is just lying; the very fact that they say 'we're not a rock'n'roll band' says something about their relationship with rock'n'roll. To me it says it in a rather naive, dishonest or stupid way, but there you are."
"I think it's important for a band to realise what it's doing. It's like our relationship with [bad connection]. It's a bit like the psychedelic garage re-opening. The original garage has lain decrepit and decaying for quite awhile. Various people have hammered on the door, and maybe bits of debris have trickled out from underneath in the draught, and these people have picked up the dross and taken it away and tried to make something useful out of it. But they haven't managed."
--So there are connections with psychedelia then?
"Yeah, in as much as those bands understood the absurdity I think. Most of their noises were very silly; their lyrics were absurdist, all the best ones anyway, not the introverted hippy drivel! But the garage bands certainly."
--The Sisters of Mercy - a perfect epilogue.
"The garage is pretty crummy now. All the flowers are dead, and there's a skeleton screwing a dead dog in the corner on top of a heap of car parts. Nowadays you can hear sirens outside and there's men in uniforms around the block. The whole trip has turned sour..."
"The Sisters have re-opened the garage, and are dancing around it...with mischievous desperation."
Picture text: Sisters of Mercy (no relation to New Order) cast a gothic shadow for the lens of Kevin Cummins.
With groups like The Gun Club and Birthday Party kicking the cataleptic body of music around, perhaps it was inevitable that the search for something new would be on.
Enter The Sisters Of Mercy.
The Sisters are five human units: Ben Gunn, Gary Marx, Lerch Adams and Andrew Eldritch - and an all important drum machine.
"We are probably the first people in this country to take the sound of the drum machine and actually do something different with it. If you know how to use them these things can be immensely powerful."
The Sisters pull out the full verbal swagger, partly through a conviction of their own power and direction, and partly through simple perversity.
Fashion is tehre to be flaunted, they argue, and they do so delightedly. When I arrive to talk to them they're running through an old Jimi Hendrix video.
Listen little Sisters, I thought rock was dead.
"That's the trouble with the press," they sulk, "they will not recognise that the rock format still has an enorumous amount to contribute - as long as it's apporached with the right attitude and an awareness that certaint hings just can't be taken seriously."
"People are ready to recognise a smartness and a sense of humour in pop but not rock, which is just as suitable a vehicle."
The Sisters of Mercy are an intersection of the compelling sex-beat simplicity of DAF and the sparkling spirit (not the junky fascination) of the New York Dolls. They describe themselves as a heavy metal band, but what's important is that they operate on more than one level.
"Some people like us because we make a powerful noise, some people see us as the thinking man's guide to the apocalypse," they say with derision. "And some actually see the tremendous balck humour with which the whole thing's done."
Black humour but not black magic?
"We could go in for all that imagery, but it's just the easy way to find out. It's a way of covering up the inability of making any intelligent comment. Like the reference to Tarot on the new single says: 'In illusion comfort lies which means black magic is just another illusion that people use to wrap themselves up in and hide from teh real world."
The double A-side single 'Alice'/'Floorshow' is a devastating scream.
A follow up to the highly acclaimed 'Body Electric' and their best forgotten debut, it's the purest expression of the Sisters' promise so far. They insist, though, that this is only one side of them.
"We regard records and live performances as being two different aspects of the whole thing. Each can be taken on their own, to understand what the band is trying to do, you have to see both sides of them."
At London's Imperial College, in front of an unsuspecting crowd of students, they expose the live wire. Where the recrods restrain teh power, the live sound takes it to almost ridiculous levels, as the band teeters on the edge of parody.
Andrew, starved and spindly, coils around the mike, Craig disinterest and rolls out an ominous wash of bass, and Ben looks bemused. The drum machine cuts through the top of your head.
The audience becomes a mix of bouncing psychobillies, restrained consideration and open antagonism.
"We always do that to audiences, there's always the three distinct groups. We always get cut and dried reactions."
My reaction? The Sisters of mercy are not the answer but they make an invigorating antidote.
Adam Sweeting unravels the stream of consciousness gushing forth from The Sisters Of Mercy
"Our problem is that talking usually ends up as a very serious affair, which isn't a true reflection of the band as a phenomenon," Said Andy, singer with The Sisters of Mercy. "It's very hard to convey the non-intellectual aspects of any band through talking."
What the hell, we talked anyway. We talked in Andy's front room in Leeds, all four Sisters and me. Then I talked to Andy and guitarist Gary Marx in a Chinese restaurant. Then back to the front room. I vetoed the full all-nighter around 3.30am. Andy probably spent the rest of the night talking to himself, because he'd finally got warmed up, the night creature pacing in his lair.
Before he found himself in the spotlight with The Sisters Of Mercy. Andy studied languages. Where, I queried.
"Oh, all over the place," he said guardedly. "I never finished a course because I kept finding more exciting things to do, like petty vandalism."
"I've done French and German and Italian and Latin and Chinese and a smattering of Russian and a smattering of Dutch in my time. Chinese was the best. Latin helped me no end - I don't know whether it helped my brain any, but as a linguist it was certainly vital. And I can do crosswords in a zillionth of the time it takes anybody else. I can't do ordinary ones, but the cryptic ones are a doddle."
The day of our meeting found The Sisters Of Mercy unaccountably quiet, possibly the result of a sordid and thinly attended gig in Bradford the night before. Consider these men: guitarist Gary Marx is tall, lanky, thick white socks of the sort favoured by mountaineers pulled up over the bottom of his jeans. He watches the proccedings with apparent indifference, occasionally throwing in an oblique comment. On stage, he wreaks violence on his guitar.
Bassman Craig Adams crimps himself into the corner of the sofa and reads an old Batman annual from cover to cover, pausing only to light another cigarette. He only uses three strings on his bass because one of the machine heads is broken. His cheerful exterior seems quite at odds with the grinding, warlike attack of his playing, Craig is the beer-drinker of the group.
Guitarist Ben Gunn sits quietly in an armchair, boyish and suspiciously innocent, the classroom swot who goes home at night and makes explosives in a shed in the back garden.
Then there's Andy, frontman, writer of all the material so far, dominant theorist and mouthpiece. Andy likes logic, order, Motorhead, cats, industrial design, The Birthday Party, The Psychedelic Furs, acroplanes and TS Eliot.
Andy hates Bauhaus, Kid Creole, false spiritualism, numerous groups from the Leeds/Bradford area, fashion, eating and alcohol.
The Sisters' use of a drum machine instead of a drummer makes excellent sense - Andy can growl and roar and the others can troment and punish their instruments, but the beat will not slacken or surrender.
Andy, if you do all the writing, how important is the rest of the group?
"It's vital. The personal chemistry is very important. Craig's response is just to play the bass like he does, the sort of awesome noise, and that says a lot to me."
"Sometimes at soundchecks, maybe after we've been in the van all day, he just plugs in and wham! It just knocks me out. Mark provides the more lunatic side of things. And Ben's got a much more open mind on things. The balance of all these four is what makes it work."
"Even minor decisions are ludicrously democratic. That's one of the reasons why we never got a drummer, because drummers just don't fit into anybody's personal chemistry."
You talk a lot about the humour in your music, but does it communicate to the audience?
"Well, basically it involves the dialectics of cynicism, which is something that takes a long time to explain," says Andy. "It's a very, very, very, dry joke."
Gary: "I think the gigs are pure slapstick."
Because you make them taht way or because of the places you have to play in?
Andy: "It starts off OK but by the end of the gig Gary's just not in control any more, he's just destrying things. And it is very slapstick."
"But every band's got that anyway. It's just that most of them don't realise it. And of course the fact that you're being serious about it only makes it more ironic and the whole thing about irony is that is compounds itself at every stage."
Of course, a joke's no longer a joke once you've picked it apart and explained it. I can only say taht the first time I saw them something clicked at once. Perhaps it's a little like that horrific thrill of driving fast on a motorway in the rain and the car suddenly starts to aquaplane, or realising that you've gone over the line this time but wasn't it worth it for the rush? Gamesmanship par excellence.
Check, for verification, available Sisters vinyl on their own Merciful Release label: the fierce, teeth-clenching bobsleigh runs of 'Adrenochrome' and 'Body Electric', the relentless 'Alice'. At the moment I'm fixated by the suspended torment of 'Floorshow', a roaring electric tarantella, the kill-or-cure dance of death. It's hard rock without the pomp (though Andy can and will pose like a good 'un), heavy metal with keen critical faculties.
What do you love about rock?
Andy: "We like a loud noise, we like a good tune. We like the relentlessness of classic rock music - heavy metal."
What do the Sisters do that's any more than a loud physical noise?
"Well, our attitude towards parody is designed to show people how this loud noise is ideally to be taken. You can frighten people and amuse them at the same time, and excite them and inspire them. Because that's what it does to us, it does all those things."
Are you offering your audience some kind of faith?
"Yeah, I mean to us cynicism is very close linked to faith or belief or holiday something dear. It's the sort of cynicism that comes out of disappointment with one's environment rather than despair of it, and that's a very precious thing, its the only thing which separates us from bozos."
Do you advocate selfdestruction?
Andy: "Under certain circumstances, yes. Nietzsche once said that a man's greatest power is the power to decide the time of his own death, adn that seems perfectly reasonable. I wouldn't hold that suicide is necessarily a symptom of unsoundness or mind, or being not in possession of all one's faculties."
Gary: "which is one of the connotations of the name of the group. It was picked because it had several strong images, not just one."
"The name's nice and ironic," said Andy with a thin grin, "very corporate. A nice 50-50 balance between nuns and prostitution, which seems like a very suitable metaphore for a rock band. All this pseudo-faith business and high ritual, and yet - prostitution."
And Merciful Release?
"Suitably pompous," chortled Gary.
"Vincent Price delivered the line very well once," said Andy. "And it's a nicely selfdeprecating way of releasing stuff. When you make a Merciful Release it's like, 'Well, that's out of the way, the agony is now over'."
By Andy's own admission, the Sisters are still embryonic, but plans have been laid for 1983. Depending on trivial little factors like money, they should have a single called 'Anaconda' out in February, and an EP is also high on the agenda. AN LP is not evisaged before 1984. They're currently entering a "slower and heavier" phase, which Andy feels he has to work out of his system forthwith.
Reading some of his lyrics on paper, I was surprised by the formal attention to detail which has gone into them. Generally the voice is used as a strand in the groups's overall sound.
"Our sound says a lot about me," Andy explained. "People say things like, 'What's your attitude to nuclear war?' and I say, 'Just listen to the sound - what the fuck do you think our attitude to nuclear war is?'"
"The voice is much more personal than the instruments, so it's better to mix it down, because you've very vulnerable. I think with 'Anaconda' we might include a lyric sheet. We'd never print the lyrics on the sleeve 'cos that would spoil my artwork."
Andy does the Sisters' artwork himself, and typically it's cold and neat, iced with sharp detail, using livid monochrome to index the stark polarities contained inside.
'Anaconda' is about the hip games people play with heroin addiction, now worryingly back in vogue at prices too many people can afford.
"There's far too many smack songs which are a bit too callously irresponsible. Junkie chic is not where it's at. We do 'Sisters Ray' because it is just an orgy of self-destruction every time we do it. That's what it all about."
"All the lyrics are designed to be taken away and used. It's not just puring myself. I couldn't go and perform it or make record of it if I didn't think it was generally useful. Besides, the band wouldn't let me and why should they?"
Is there anything you'd die for?
"(Long pause) I might die for someone. Not for my cause. Dying when you don't intend to is not my idea of an itelligent act."
What would you be doing if you weren't in The Sisters Of Mercy?
"I'd like to do all sorts of things - whether anybody'd give me the chance is another thing. I wouldn't ming being your regular Renaissance Man, but who's gonna employ me to do that? Not many vacancies for them in the Exchange é-Mart."
How about you, Gary?
"Working Class Hero. It's true, that's what my name is, it's just sending it up. I'm just a born Working Class Hero - deprived background, almost a footballer."
Andy: "You could say, 'Well look, four million people can't be wrong and that's how many we've sold,' and it wouldn't justify it. You could say, '"Well it stopped one person jumping off a bridge,' and that wouldn't justify it. Whatever justification you had wouldn't prove the point; you can only offer an opinion."
"That question not only asks 'What do you do?' but also 'Do you regard it as worthwhile?', and obviously one does or one wouldn't do it."
I quite often stumble into The Warehouse, or Le Phonographic and amongst the familiar strains of The Banshees and The Cramps, hear a black beat; a consistant rythm; a thrusting force - The Sisters of Mercy! There are four members in the band, who makes the music, play the gigs and if you're lucky may let you interview them. Fanzine writers take not, put a band like the Sisters on the cover of any durge-ridden rag and your horrid little paper should sell out in no time - Was I thinking that? Surely not; Anyway, Steve and myself met two of the band, Gary and Ben, at the Warehouse wehre they were supporting The Gun Club that night. The other two (ugly?) sisters had decided to make themselves 'unavailable' and were nowhere to be seen. I could have sworn taht the two geezers I'd spotted earlier were the two afore-mentioned 'superstars', or at least exact replicas. But my eye-sight never been very good!! It was home territory for the Sisters, so the place was packed tight and the atmosphere stifling.
A lot had happened since we'd last spoken to the band, over a year ago. We asked Gary what they'd been up to...
"Well, we've just recorded a 5-track single called 'Reptile House'. Ben joined us last year. The first single that we did with im was 'Alice', which was like our break in a very small way, as it got us into the indie charts.'
You've got your own label now, is that helping you?
"Yes, it's Merciful Release, with us and The March Violets both on it. We could be the most successful independant label around, apart from maybe Factory and Mute. We're hoping to use it as a launching pad for other bands."
With band commitments and also running the label, you must be pretty busy?
"Yeah, there's the tour with Gun Club, then the new E.P. and then the new single which we'll be recording in June. We've been gigging almost solidly this year."
'Alice' was released in America, how was that arranged?
"Yes, we put it out on a 12". The Psychdelic Furs put up all the costs so it was no skin off our noses. What happened was, Andy went to see the Furs a long time ago and gave them our first tape, which they liked and gave to various people, including their manager. So we've had a lot of help and advice from them. John Ashton, the Furs' guitarist, produced 'Alice' which was the reason why it was so good. With a bit of luck he might help us with the next one."
Are you fairly happy with your present standing then i.e. They'll put on your record and most dancefloors will be immediately packed.
"Fairly happy yes. There's definitely the beginning of a following."
Does this comes as a surpise to you?
"No, not really because apart from Ben, we've all been doing this for quite a while and we all thought that this would be the band that would do it, alongside all the other things we've done and consequently abandoned. With the Sisters Of Mercy, we all felt taht it was worth sticking to what we were doing. In London at the moment, a lot of the new bands are into The Stooges etc., which wasn't quite so fashionable a couple of years ago when we were being compared to them. In a sense though, we're trying to avoid that now. That's one of the reasons why we're doing all these cover versions like 'Jolene', by Tanny Wynette, just to shake it off a bit. We're in a position now where we can do that. The new E.P. is pretty slow, which is a deliberate move to prove what we're not just a 'rama-lama punk band'. I remember the first time we played 'Jolene' at The Venue. Everybody was horrified and people were even walking out. Since then it's been great though, it's the highlight of the set now. Thats the way it
should be though, because it's a great song."
From Tammy Wynette to Ben Gunn, is there a connection? Ben is the new guitarist and we had a brief but fruitful chat.
"I joined the band about 18 months ago and it's been going very well. I got to know the band trhough some ex Xpelaires and things went on from there. They rrang me up one day and asked me if I wanted to join their band and I said no at first because I was in the middle of my A-levels. So they spent ages convincing me taht they were going to be the biggest thing Britain had seen since The Stones or The Beatles. I didn't really believe it and asked them the name of the band. They said we're The Sisters Of Mercy and I said ok. I'd join straight away, whatever happened."
And tehre ends this short tale. A fairy-tale come true from Ben or for anyone who listens to The Sisters? I'm not sure. I'm still a little bit apprehensive. Nothing though I'm sure, can deter The Sisters. 'Reptile House' is in your shops and in the charts and the new single is on the horizon. Some people may think that the Sisters are arrogant or hostile or whatever. It might be true, but not at least of Ben and Gary. They were friendly, helpful and open. Andy on the other hand, may have the business acumen to take the band to the top, but he's certainly no charmer!
-Interview by Mark Carritt and Steve Trattles. Words by Mark C.
"We are, to a great extent, concerned with the aesthetics of popular culture, not actually with what goes on within it. But then, that's the most important thing. Or as important. And because it'as important to us, and needs saying more to other people, we tend to cencentrate on it."
Andrew Eldritch sings for the Sisters Of mercy and speaks a lot for them as well. He wears sunglasses after dark and sleeps all day. Rock'n'roll lifestyles I can take or leave. I'm always searching beind the shades, for that essential something that lurks with hideous strength at the core of rock'n'roll's impatient and imagery besotted structures.
I'd say Gene Vincent's 'Cat man', John Cale's 'Heartbreak Hotel', the Birthday Party's 'The Bad Seed' and probably lots more. All stripping away the layers of ultimately frustrated and frustrating waste, finally reaching that undefined, raw and pulsating glory. All, by the very nature of their noise, creating cliches for the future. But never using others' with such barefaced and apparently guiltless abandon as the Sisters Of Mercy. The Sisters, it seems, haven't reached anything (yet).
Their mechanical, steely recordings. Their derivative, curiously humourless live pouts. Neither have ever touched anything inside me. Certainly, they inspire no passion on my part, merely a sense of curiosity. But the Sisters seem to take great pride in their painstakingly exacuted distllation of the superficialities of rock'n'roll. I remarked at one point that, despite Andrew's transparent mikestand(Morrison leanings, I found nothing particularly cliched about their live performances. Standard, yes. Efficient, yes. Yet no more quilty of the use of cliche than the cavorting of so many others. But...
"It's supposed to be a cliche!" Andrew is perplexed. "Why didn't you find it cliched?" Well, I don't know. What I did notice was Andrew's overwhelming arrogance. I wasn't sure though, whether to dismiss it as simply that, or to construe it as a rather poorly attempted creation of, ahem, mystique...
Before travelling northwards to leeds, home of the four Sisters and their Merciful Release company, I was forewarned of Andrew's overbearing manner and of his habit of 'talking over the top of his shades'. Having already made several disparaging remarks in print, I arrived (before the band) at the appointed place with a degree of apprehension.
Happily, the first thing Andrew did was remove his shades - and also his interview style - and surprise me with his enthusiasm for bad reviews. He offered me cigarettes, played me the Sisters' new three-track recording, waxed something over the usual lyrical about same and generally displayed a love for/disappointment in rock'n'roll, along with a rather personable character. I was put considerably at ease.
The other surprise was the new record (set for September release). Quite simply it makes the other Sisters efforts - despite the relatively impressive achivements of the recent 'Reptile House' E.P. - sounds more then ever like the half-realised visins I sensed them to be. The two original songs, particularly the A-side's eight-minutes, still leave room for growth, but they encompass a far greater breadth of feeling and feel than previous vinyl excursions. The third track is one of the oft-mentioned covers, 'Gimme Shelter'.
It's more than a cover version (Andrew disagrees, although he admits to the certainty of being "the best cover ever"). It's an interpreation of awesome stature, annihilation the original's less than superlative appeal and resurrecting it as a few minutes of puer, unfettered strenght...the only moment when the Sisters have so perfectly plumbed the dizzy depths of rock with such unqualified success. it's pure, where their other work is too refined and inherently corrupt.
After an illuminating - and unfortunately untaped . exchange, we left with the three other, largely silent Sisters in tow on a meandering stroll, trying to find an outdoor site for the interview proper. Andrew put on his sunglasses and his partners in plagiarism put on their best behaviour.
We eventually sat ourselves in the serenity and clunk-click of bowling-green benchland. Not entirely taking me unawares, Andrew changed manners, dropping his forthcoming chattiness, opting instead to wait for questions, throwing back replies - which occasionally verged on the glib - after moments of ponderious thought. It seemed contrived, but nonetheless fascinating.
On an obvious tack (but one which had to be taken) I attempte to probe their motives: why do they over-emphasise their influences and reference points? After all, on first (and subsequent) playings of the records and during live shows, most listeners/observers, either casual or intensely interested, can pin down myriad, recognisable sources: from Stooges to Psychedelic Furs, from Doors to Joy Divsion, and beyond. I feel that all too frequently, those references/influences obscure rather then fortify the traces of personality that struggle to make themselves more apparent. Andrew - as throughout - has the reply.
"Yeah, but most people will make a big deal of their original points. You can take it for granted taht any band that comes along ahs got a few original points. What so few of them actually acknowledge their influences properly, so maybe we overemphasise them to make the poin that most people don't."
And of the more recent examples of those reference points, Andrew is bluntly dismissive: "That's really unfair, because they're not refernce points, they're just people who are doing roughly the same thing. To people like us who know the Furs inside out, and who know what we do inside out, they're worlds apart."
Although all of this might be clear enough for the Sisters - and, of course, those who've been able to speak with them - I wonder if it's quite as obvious to their growing audience at large.
"Well, I dunno. It's not for us to say really. We do our best. It's always hard to try and find a balance. Sometimes it goes one way, sometimes it goes the other... I think 'The Reptail House' is in a world of its own."
Even so, I find the records strongly lacking in personality. Do the Sisters think they state their identity with sufficient clarity on vinyl?
"Yeah, I think so... I dunno, we just do what we feel like doing really." He laughs. "It's the only way we know how, and when we learn something new, sometimes we icorporate it, sometimes we forget about it. We're incapable of doing stuff that doesn't come reasonably naturally to us. We just try to channel it a bit, so it sounds like a record, so it sounds like a gig. We don't come from a tradition where you can sort of slip in and out of styles and stuff. I mean, I only know one way to sing...and barely that."
But don't you think that the characteristics which originate outside the band are more exaggerated on record than they are on stage where, visibly at least, four individualities make themselves felt?
"No...the records are a lot straighter...surprisingly straight these days. The vocals are just what seemed to fit. I mean, they weren't intended to be that way-out. Most of the perversities in the vocals are in the lyrics. I think the influces comes across less on record. i think everbody else would say that, too."
Except me, I suppose. Of course, Andrew is keen to stress that they haven't yet found the balance between the trappings - which seems over-exaggerated - and the depth of feeling which (more so in their old work) is often slight to the point of irrelevance. Although both he, and I (and presumably, others) feel they're creeping closer, I put it to him that the form, rather than the content, still makes itself noticed first and foremost.
"Yeah, at the moment it would seem to, but that's because that's the thing which needs saying more, still. Because it's the thing which people find more unacceptable."
An exaggerated sense of form?
"Yeah! They're quite used to an exaggereated sense of content. And you've gotta remember that we're not just talking about playing to punk rockers any more. We've got a mission bigger than that, because we actually have to convince the general public. Again, that's more of a challenge. The difference between us and a lot of other bands that get written about in teh same place we get written about is that we actually can transcend this medium."
I can't agree with Andrew on that. Although he sees their projected scale of operations of "megahits" and the Sisters as the ideal "stadium band" amongst their comtemporaries, I believe that, from the Cocteau Twins to the Mob (of whom Andy says "They're so important I haven't even heard of them"), many of those contemporaries ahve infinitely greater corssover potential, on many levels, than the Sisters Of Mercy.
I ask Andrew exactly what level he feels he can take those cliches he so passionately beleives in. Hammersmith Odeon or Wembley Stadium? How far can you take a fuzz guitar?
"You give us a big stage and we come alive," he enthuses, "you give us a small stage and we look cramped. you give us a big P.A. and we'll really make good use of it, give us a small P.A. and we'll fall apart. It's because we do beleive in the barriers, it's because we do believe in those traditions."
Indeed, Andrew is fervently devoted to making use of the traditional band/audience barrier, disregarding any talk of breaking it down, which he views as a childishly impossible notion. Basically, this rather concealed belief is what I had (quite innocently) taken for arrogance. Are you arrogant?
"We're not arrogant people particularly. We just...every so often we indulge in teh arrogance of that rock'n'roll barrier, to make the point that it's there and that we can use it to entertian as well as to be obnoxious. You put a normal person on stage, and they are gonna act arrogant! Shine bright lights on their faces, suggest that they make a noise in front of thousands of people and you can't expect them to act like housewives. They act like big kids. We just act like bigger kids, to make the point."
So the plot thickens! But doesn't this approach seriously detract from the sober side of things? Andrew admits, "It would appear so. But we're still trying to find a way. If we could, that would be brilliant. That's well worth achieving, it's a real challenge."
Indeed. But as the man says, they haven't found it yet. nevertheless, the Sisters are commendably honest as they attempt to convey the difficulties of illuminating the surface failings of the rock medium to rock fans. Underneath it all, though, do they feel there is anything worth reaching for?
"Oh yeah! I mean it is such a broad vehicle, you can imbue it with a much significance, or lack of it, as you want. it's just that the main point we seem to be trying to get over these day, is that you can imbue it with an awful lot - well, we still do that, there's still that depht to it. But maybe we overemphasise the trash: not on record, but certianly live."
So on the records, are there clear messages to be understood? They still seem to me to be, to a great extent, submerged beneath the stylistic mechanics of the Sisters' music. And though, after some discussion, I recognise their (albeit obsured) logic in taking their chosen path, I can still pinpoint little hidden the familiar noises.
"Well, I think the messages are there...some of them, you've got to work at, but if you didn't have to work at them, there'd be no reason to play the damn thing more then once."
So is there a depth beind, say, "Kiss The Carpet"? Andy elaborates, "It's designed to be written so that the language conveys somwthing in itself. Even the most obscure writers have a way of writing that is attractive and means something in terms of what the syllables sound like."
Fair enough, but does that feeling come through strongly enough? "Well, I dunno," muses Andrew, "it's not for us to say. We do our best y'know. And we were never ashamed to release stuff that was maybe not as good as it would be in five years time. Hopefully it'll get better. But there's no reason we shouldn't stick it out, because it still wipes the floor with everything else."
Despite that assertion, Andy agrees taht they do more justice to their cover versions, notably "Gimme Shelter", than to their original material - which in itself perhaps shed some light on why the superficial aspects of their own work are more promenent that their own inputs.
"There's a lot of things we'd like to do, but we generally only do the ones we're reable to do. We write stuff that maybe we aren't able to do quite as well. We always pcik very simple covers, and maybe the songs we write aren't simple enough."
And what the Sisters are trying to do with rock'n'roll is quite simple. "We're using it properly," explains Andrew, "using all of it, not just bits of it. The more you indicate the failings, the more you can actually use the strengths of it. I don't think anyone's ever set their minds on it quite so resolutely..." He laughs again.
The other three beings involved in the mission, who largely remained mute throughout, but were adamant that it's most decidedly a team, are Benn Gunn, Gary Marx and Craig Adams. Despite their silence, they claim to monitor Andrew's arguments. Andrew himself states that he's "quite into this business of being the front man". And as long as that works, it certainly renders my task simpler and more precise.
In ancient times the Prince of Darkness tempted revered Zen ascetics by sending out a demon in the guise of a beautiful seductress. But Zen ascetics being a crusty lot, the demon always failed.
We hardly expect to be that crusty.
It's a nightclub at midnight. The moon outside must be full. As the dimmed stage lights rise, three intimidating figures (Ben Gunn, Gary Marx, Craig Adams) adorned with guitars plant themselves solidly and conjure dense waves of stomach-churning bass and whining melody, driven by the hypnotic "thud and crash" of a drum machine that bears of the disco crowd. Against this maniacally funeral backdrop a slight, dark figure slinks on stage...dressed entirely in black, with finely-chiselled nose and chin, eyes concealed by glowing mirror-frames and a mop of onyx hair. His lithe, snaky, blackglowed hands wrap around the mike stand as he mumbles a sullen, monotone "'Ello".
Then suddenly...too suddenly...the voice transforms as it takes up the song. A sinister, rumbling growl from each word slowly...agonizingly...like a tortured sculptor twisting clay, then soars to a frantic, ear-piercing screech. Now the figure looms above the crowd like unfamiliar shadows in a midnight alleyway. His shoulders slip from side to side as he pulls the mike stand back and forth around his wiry form, his boney hips pumping seductively like some uncontrollable piston...never missing a beat. His voice slithers through some undetected chink in your psyche, yanks up your emotional entrails, and drags them up...slowly...leaving them in a bloody, quivering heap on the dancefloor.
Andrew Eldritch is a latter-day Siren.
The name Sisters of Mercy is "not really about Catholicism," explains Andy. "It's just an evocation of attitude. Besides being wonderfully sick and funny...and very attractive, I don't really care about Catholicism. We didn't come across our name because of that. It's got a lot more to do with prostitutes than nuns. But we do like the idea of the two together."
If the Sisters of Mercy carried a banner it would read "Ambiguity".
"I don't mind being misconstrued in as much as it's perfectly clear to me what my songs mean. They have their ambiquities, but I'd rather have it that way than make clear cut little statements. It's oblique, but it's all there. I don't feel any obligation to make it clear, because, apart from everything else, if it's all up front the way a lot of people want, it wouldn't be any fun for us at all. We'd get very tired of it."
"Our live shows are drastically different from teh records. The songs are essentially the same, but our tendency to take the piss out of rock and roll comes across a lot stronger live because so much of it is visual. The cliches of rock music really comes out and you can just wallow in it. you have to see the band when they play. You have to see the little grinson the sides of their faces. You have to see the way a guitar explodes when someone treads on it, or how an amplifier starts smoking when it's turned up too far."
"It's defintitely funny, although we hae to make it quite subtle to get off on it ourselves. Which is a problem, because people don't really catch on to what we're on about. But as people are gradually made more and more aware of all the aspects of what we do, then there's got to come a time when everything gets communicated in one massive sensory overkill."
Tracking the Sisters from one record to the next - one gig to the next - is fascinating, perhaps because it's so obvious that the band is enjoying the exact same process. Commencing their career in their native Leeds, England (Andy's actually a disaffected Londoner), the Sisters of Mercy begans as a collaboration between Andy, gutiarist Gary Marx, and the notorious Doktor Avalanche (drum machine) leading to the release (on the band's own Merciful Release label) - and subsequent disavowal - of a single called "The Damage Done" ("It was bad - too self-indulgent").
The Sisters met guitarist ben Gunn and bassist Craig Adams "in a laundromat. Or maybe not. It doesn't really matter. No one gives a fuck how we met, do they? We can't remember." In any case, their current line-up established, the Sisters began "releasing stuff to exercise (exorcise?) the various aspects of what we can do. We saturated the British market with records. We really confuse them." Specifically, their single "The Body Electric" first got the Sisters noticed...not only in the Midlands, where they were already fairly established, but in London which, taking them at face value, began branding them "positive punk" (read: hardcore). For all their love of ambiguity, this was one misinterpretation the Sisters found both offensive...and dangerous. They soon stormed London, setting the record straight so successfully that their next single, "Anaconda", and first EP, "Alice", raced up the indie charts, nesting alongside the Birthday Party's Bad Seed EP and New Order's Power,
Corruption and Lies.
Never content to sit back on their "laurels," the Sisters wound their tortuous route in a different direction. The result was The Reptile House EP - "a thouroughly slow record. Although it's flawed, I think it's a flawed masterpiece. I'm very proud of it."
With this neat little oeuvre under their belts, the Sisters of Mercy were ready to launch themselves on the world...or at least on the European and American markets. Their tour of Europe where "we're going over quite well. Probably because I have a tendency to wear leather trousers and the Belgians and the French are a bit silly about that sort of thing. I do have spectacular legs," was followed by a northeast U.S. introduction so recent the notice aren't in yet.
"There's no reason the Sisters shouldn't just get better and better until everyone's done as much as they possibly can. Then it'd be time to cash it all in. But it's very, very hard to forsee that happening at this stage."
"I can't see a time when I'm ever going to run dry. My mind's a bottomless pit. There are so many paradoxes involved - I'm a real fucker for paradoxes - it's easy to make delicious statements. It's a very complex thing to express. It's very simple to convey. At the moment we've been conveying bits of it on each record, bits of it in each gig. I'm hoping there'll come a time when any one record we make or any one gig we play will say everything we've got to say."
Ambitous? Their latest release, "The Temple of Love", finds Andy - the band's erstwhile producer - not only discovering the 24 track studio, but revelling in it. The Sisters' viscous swash now separates into veil upon musical veil, the harmonies blossoming in complexity. The title song is a veritable masterpiece of evocative songwriting. from it's poetic lyrics - ironic images of desparate love, fear, suicide, darkness - to ebbing and surging waves of melody and harmony, to its perversly hypnotic beat, "The Temple of Love" collects the myriad thematic strands - both musical and lyrical - that run through all the Sisters' work and weaves them together in a deliciously shocking scenario.
"Temple of Love" may be the most perfect Sisters specimen to date, but it is their live performances that give full vent to their sombre, writhing textures. While Andy has pretty well defined his own role, it's intriguing to discover what the other Sisters try to project through their sarcastic, agonising psychodrama.
Khaaryn: What do you try to do onstage?
Ben: Performance-wise? You mean the way we project ourselves? I don't know...I'm...I just try and... I just try and project what I... I'm... I don't know.
Andy: Ben project a great deal of confusion.
Ben: I find it very hard to play guitar and project myself at the same time.
Andy: It's a question of...pelvis, Ben. It's how long your guitar strap is.
Ben: Oh, definitely.
Andy: How wide apart your legs are...
Khaaryn: Is he putting words into you mouth?
Andy: I'm not putting words into his mouth.
Ben: No. He's just being gross.
(Since the end of their U.S. mini-tour in September, Ben, by mutual agreement with the band, abandoned his vocation with the Sisters of Mercy. As he himself noted in my interview with him, "If any of us quit, the Sisters wouldn't be the Sisters," Prophetic...to say the least.
As of this moment, a few West Coast dates notwithstanding, Andy and the rest of his order have "gone underground". But don't be surprised if the next Merciful Release is by a band called Acid Rain...)
The Sisters Of Mercy - The Fantasy Club, Birmingham April 7th 1984
The atmosphere was electric.
"But don't you WANT a review?? I mean, don't you WANT any publicity??" pleaded the Press incessently.
"OUT!!" replied the Sisters' minders firmly.
The Sisters of Mercy are playing the Fantasy, stricly secretly. This gig is a 'thankyou' for Sisters fans and the gutterlevel grovelling from the Press proved fruitless. The boot, at last, is on the other foot.
As the singer with the band said afterwards: "We're not here to put on a show for the Press. We're here to say thank you to our fans for waiting for us this past six months. The Press are not welcome." Who was the singer? Was it the stand-in?...my lips are sealed.
The gig itself is excellent. There's one new addition to the Sisters. Wayne Hussey from Dead Or Alive is playing guitar tonight. The set has several changes including a few new songs, on ebing a likely contender for next singel "Body And Soul". Without the instant impact of "Temple Of Love" (which they don't play live) "Body And Soul" is a real grower.
Also continuing in the vein of obscure covers the Sisters have played their ace with Abba's "Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)". A real raunchy, sleazy rendition.
Sat on my perch I noticed an almost religious atmosphere. I alos noticed that the gods are smiling.
How odd this all looks, reflected in the opaque blck lenses of Wayne Hussey's absolutely Ian Hunter shades.
Backstage at Sheffield, The Sisters Of Mercy's new guitarist sits in the corner and stares. And what he sees is...hair! Sprouting fomr everywhere. It's like some perverted post punk reweite of The Furry Streak Brothers comic - all back combed and black clad, swigging vodka and orange mixes from large Pepsi bottles. Broad grins peer out beneath 'have you got planning permission for that haircut' mop tops.
One thing is middediately apparent - in the six-months absence from activity, The Sisters Of Mercy have not been whilling away their time at the local barbers.
Andrew Eldritch predictably holds court: as usual he looks like something exhumed for a second autopsy opinion.
Hussey sits staring blankly, his lurid purple and pink shirt button up to the neck, although the collars curl rebelliously away from the neat diagonal.
Recently it's been debatable whether Eldritch has been continuing the Sisters' campaign for world domination with a strategy of the quietest cunning, or whether - and the second possibility is the most popular - he's simply flipping his lank black wig.
Look over the independent charts for the past six months and you'll find The Sisters Of Mercy a continuing presence, featuring twice and sometimes three times in higher reaches. In the parade of glory that is Uncle John peel's Festive Fifty, only New Order/Joy Division featured more frequently.
If Morrissey has emerged as the promary provincial megalomaniac come good, the Eldritch is creeping up behind. Yet at the time when the Sisters seemed poised on the verge of the success Eldrtich had schemed for, the band as such didn't really exist. Or at least that was the impression created by his any, and increasingly confusing, communications with the NME.
"Sell the wife, sell the kids. I'm not coming back - ever!" ran the first postcard, postmarked in los Angeles and addressed to Barney Hoskyns. "Does he really imagine anyone actually cares," Hoskyns drawled in typically laconic fashion, unceremoniously dumping the missive in the nearest bin.
"Tell the world I'm still alive" was the instruction from the second one - adressed to me and postmarked Rio de Janeiro. "Does he really imagine anyone actually cares," commented a passing Hoskyns...
Roumours of the band's break-up spread. The records carried on selling.
Shortley afterwards a T-Zer appeared, from an apparently knowledgeable source, maintaining that Eldritch was in fact sitting at home in Leeds, wearing a cowboy hat, imagining he was in New York and indulging in Jim Morrison fantasies. Eldritch was upset, but instead of jumping in the bathtub, he reached for the phone.
"Sorry did I wake you?" he asked as I croaked a gouchy hello into the receiver at the other end. "I tend to forget the time difference."
As my semi-sleeping brain cells struggled with the idea of a time meridian suddenly established between leeds and London he added, "I'm in New York." The line crackled. That's nothing, my line crackles when I ring Carnaby Street.
The upshot of the conversation was that The Sisters Of Mercy still existed. They were about to undertake a British tour. BUT he, Eldritch, was not going to be singing with them. They had, he maintained, found a ringer - a reptillian pretender almost identical to himself but sporting a thick black beard.
That's it! I reflected, he's obviously off his acid-rocker. He thinks he's got soem Performance type Doppelganger!
"Funny you should mention that," he said. "When I'm rich and famous I've always wanted to buy taht house in Notting Hill where Performance was set."
More original than thinking you're a teapot, I suppose.
All the same the idea was quite compelling - Eldritch having spent so many nights in feverish calculation that he'd spent himself quietly insane, begun to believe in all those rock star fantasies of his.
Hence this traipse up to Sheffield to tug at the beard of the so-called phoney Sisters. Of course all I found was a clean-shaven Andrew Eldritch, still maintaining he'd been in New York when he'd rung me.
"I still find it really funny that people keep making the Morrison comparisons," he says. "It's quite an interesting idea to play with. Until they find some other comparisons, and then I'll play with that."
At the moment it occured to me precisely who Eldritch had reminded me of on stage at Sheffield. In full lenght velvet coat and shoulder trailing black hair, droning the words to 'Heartland', he bore a striking resemblance to the pre-rockabilly days of Les Grey of Mud.
This band didn't form - it "festered". Their dark, doomy music apparently "grew like mould". They only meet the sort of people who comes out after dark. People like Linda Duff.
"Our band never really formed. It sort of grew like mould on a slice of bread. Now you see it in its full glory but it took a while to develope its festering stage. Am I allowed to use the word 'festering'?
Andrew Eldritch, singer with The Sisters Of Mercy, likes to speak his mind. he seems to relish his position as a spokesman for a band with a particularly spooky image. Their songs have doom-laden titles like "Phantom", "Kiss The Carpet" and "Burn". They appear in photos clad in long back overcoats, holey jeans and Paisley-patterned shirts, with silver crosses and yards of black webbing for decoration. I suggest that it's all a bit dark and mysterious.
"Oh." Pause. "Is it? That's what we feel comfortable in. Every morning when we get up we just put on what's to hand. It just so happens that waht lies on our floors just happens to be that sort of equipment."
The Sisters Of Mercy (Who've got nothing to do with the Thompson Twins' new single, by the way) were first, er, conceived late one night in a Leeds nightclub and take their name from a song by '60s singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, a man who specialised in groaning his way through deeply monotonous dires. This seems to suit their image perfectly. Current single "Body And Soul" manages to include references to "burning in the flame", "sins and secrets" and "forbidden places", all against a heavy plodding beat.
Andrew explains, "Well, I think all records should have undercurrents. There's undercurrents here but I'm not about to explain them because, if I did, they'd no longer be under currents."
Although not very keen to describe their sound (he'll only say "all life is there"), he's quick to point out there is no connection between his group and London's Batcave, Marc Almond, Death Cult or hippie revival scene. It's just "a very unfortunate coincidence. We started long before that and we completely disown any revival. But only is it in London that it's a problem. In London, we still have to flight that tooth and nail. But we do."
Now the band have signed to WEA, after releasing 15 records on their own independent Merciful Release label. But they still plan to remain based in Leeds.
"In London, there's too many of one's contemporaries walking around the street. We like Leeds mostly because of the fact that we run the place pretty much. What we say goes." Not to worry, these days they don't spend much time there. They've toured the States "about four or five times" and apparently, went down very well. "The Americans are great. But then, we only meet the ones that comes out after dark, and they're always okay."
I had an idea that that's where his funky black lone ranger hat came from too. "Yeah," he smirks, warming to the subject. "I'm very proud of that hat. I bought it in Las Vegas for 25 dollars. It got a bit battered on the tour, so unforunately it's now a bit floppier than it should be."
Having also toured Germany, Belgium, Holland, Italy, Sweden and Scotland, he reckons that soon they'll have "covered the entire world, apart from Wales".
Why not Wales?
"Because I don't think sheep are very into rock music."
The sweet and innocent Jayne Houghton trounces the entire populace of Leeds
I somehow doubt the following article will have you flocking in droves up North to get a 'piece of the action' because the question is, 'What action?'
Exactly. Leeds is blessed with the infamous pessimism, stagnation and boredom bug at the moment. This, coupled with stifling Northern ideologies, which expect people to 'do as yer granddad did' shuns anything remotely adventurous and ambitious, hardly encouraging the Leeds music scene.
Since the beginning of The Fan Club (Brannigans), seven years ago, promoter John Keenen has devoted himself to bringing hundreds of bands to Leeds and helping small local bands. He has put on (and originated) Futurama for six years and is in the process of compiling a book on this event. His patience however has finally snapped. Talking to Howard Corry of the Pop Post he justifably aired his bitterness. "Why are there no Leeds labels like Zoo (Liverpool), Factory (Manchester) or Kitchenware (Newcastle)? Why are there no decent live venues and why do the few Leeds bands complain that nobody would come anyway? Leeds is dead after 11 p.m. Are Leeds people apathic, tightfisted and boring or are they just plain broke and lacking opportunity?"
Resentful words coming from a man who turned down numerous lucrative promotinal jobs in London, to stay in Leeds and bang his head against a brick wall.
Alternatively, we have the person who has the ability to assist local bands but would rather 'let them do it themselves - why should I help?': Benjamin Matthews, on time guitarist with The Sisters of Mercy. Although not intellectually overburdened he did have the contacts needed to pursue a musical career. I followed this shining star, albeit somewhat faded now and found him, expectedly, in the overtly credible water hole, The Faversham.
First, let's have the truth about The Sisters.
"I left because of personal differences."
Come now you naughty boy, there's more to it than that!
"The general band policies, which are obviously derived from one member began to stink."
So you set up a record label?
"'Flame On Records'. The first release was in October, with a band called Anabas."
Did the label you set up with The Sisters pay off money?
"Let's get this straight. I've recieved no money whatsoever. I'm owed hundreds of pounds and intend sueing them shortly. I started Flame On Records with no money. Anyone can do it. I simply knew a band who needed a hand so i helped them out."
Until you flopped.
"I certainly didn't flop. I invented the label for the press and they lapped it up. it was all fictitious, a joke, and now I'm going to Liverpool to do a degree because the whole music business stinks."
Yeah? Well before you shoot off, give us your invaluable opinion on the current Leeds music scene.
"I didn't know there was one. I never listen to music or go to gigs. The only bands in Leeds are Sisters, March Violets and The Tree Johns."
What bout the smaller oens? The ones it was purported you were saviour to?
"They're all poxy crap bands. They just all rip off the Sisters. They haven't got an original idea between them. They don't deserve to be mentioned let alone helped."
Maybe your retreat to Liverpool with a deflated ego shows that the Leeds muisc does to would-be mega-stars.
"Sarcastic cow! I'm getting out because the music scene stinks. In Leeds and everywhere."
In your opinio what doesn't stink? I remember you started a band a while ago. That didn't fold as well did it?
"We were called The Torch. We never really existed. That was just anohter pisstake to get me a few extra lines in the music press - which worked!"
What a sad character you are!
"Not sad. Clever. I'm just taking the piss. Everybody else is lapping it up."
You're an obnoxious git.
"Maybe, Jane, maybe. I had it in me to get out of The Sisters. They were always taking the piss out of the system, which was why I was in the band, until they started taking themselves seriously. Now they're no better than anyone else. Worse, in fact. They're just not funny any more. So I got out."
And began the decline?
"If you say so but I'll be back!"
Well, that certainly put a dampener on the rest of my evening. Ben is in a position to help Leeds bands but choose instead to unleash his bitter resentment on the music press. Liverpool, you're welcome to him.
Mike Wiand, the Warehouse Club manager (who has now started Warehouse Records) suggests there is a general slump in music nationwide but in Leeds it is appalling.
"I think the best thing to help Leeds would be several small club, like Sheffield for example. I personally couldn't put small local bands on at the Warehouse because it's not profitable. We're the only city wihout a major venue, unless you count the Queens Hall which is having problems at the moment anyway. The Leeds mentality is another big problem. The apathy of the general public rubs off on band which makes them disillusioned. It's a vicious circle."
Mike rates Leeds bands East of Java and Vicious Pink Phenomena (who he also manages!) taking profit, money and profit continually and dealing with teh large record companies in London, which isn't much help to the small Leeds bands.
On person who is assisting to a degree is Mark Jonson of Whippings and Apologies fanzine which concentrates on Yorkshire bands, clubs and events.
"Nobody goes to gigs anymore. The punters won't risk going out and paying to see a small local band. They wait for the big bands to come. Famous, trendy bands in hip clubs. My fanzine tries to generate enthusiasm towards the group around the area and it does sell well but nobody goes to see the bands featured!"
Frank Lee who runs the badge/t-shirt shop catering predominantly for heavy rock fans is also in a Leeds band, Factory. I order to launch a single they had to start up their own label. Luckly this was a success and the single has now sold a thousand copies. Frank agrees taht the heavier bands have a loyal following but their problem is the fact taht rock venues are diminishing.
"The F-ford Grene closed two months ago which has set everybody back but the Bier Keller is starting rock nights (Thursdays) shortly. If you want something in leed you have to start it from scratch yourself. There's no-one willing to help financially, although we've been lucky. Most bands can't do that sort of thing."
Living Circus are jsut one such band. They have talent in abundance but no moeny and a now disillusioned bassist who has decided to call it a day. Paul Barham, vocalist, talks about the problems.
"We've nowhere decent to practise and the one club that gave us a change to play. The Phonographique, ripped us off terribly. Being in a band and living in Leeds is really dead end. We began with so much enthusiasm and vowed never to get pessimistic but it all dwindled. We'll find another bassist and soldier on. We're not giving up yet!"
At last we have some optimism!
It is possible to sprout wings and fly - Soft Cell, Sisters of Mercy and most recently March Violets and the Three Johns are tasting success. Other bands currently ruffling their feathers for the final flight are The Red Guitars (recently supported the Smiths on tour), the Craters (psychedelic r'n'b dance band), Pink Peg Slax (Peel favourites) and Abrasive Wheels, who look like taking up permanent residence in the Indie charts.
Also on the up - Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, Shakes Appeal, Age of Chance, Salvation (produced by Sisters vocalist Andrew Eldritch), 5 ex 5, Edwards Voice and Free State.
Now, should you wish to trek to Leeds for a raucous weekend the following should assist in the merriment.
CLUBS: Phonographique (Merrion Centre), Wednesdays and Saturdays. Warehouse (Somes Street), Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday (bands on Thursday).
SHOPS: X Clothes (Call Lane), Other Clothes (Empire Arcade), True (Call Lane), Queens Hall Flea Market (weekends).
It seems the only thing that might help Leeds would be a taxidermists conference but I might have missed it already (probably last week) because at the moment the people of Leeds appear to be sitting on an oil field but nobody can be bothered to drill.
They were two-thirds of the way though a successful tour, 'Black October', taking in all the major venue cities. This interview with the newest member of the band - Wayne Hussey, guitarist - was recorded pre-soundcheck in the coffee bar at Leeds University, 26th October '84. The Sisters have come a long way since the release of their first single 'Damage Done', covered many miles and made many new friends.
The Sisters and their interpretation of themselves
The Sisters comprise: Andy Eldritch, vocals; Gary Marx (Mark), guitar and vocals; Wayne Hussey, guitar and vocals; Craig Adams, bass; and Doctor Avalanche, drum machine.
There is no conscious concept surrounding the Sisters. 'We do not pruposely conjure up images of the mystical. Such portayals are figments of the media's imagination. The essence of teh group is to make and release good music. We don't wear black to be goovy or wierd guys, but feel its a flattering colour.'
Originally the Sisters came about as they had a name, logo and T-shirt design, and so it was decided to form a band and release a single. Thus, although the original format has changes with Ben leaving, and Andy vacating the drum stool in favour of the mike stand, the spirits of their records still remains very strong.
The Music business
'Its a necessary evil, although I don't always like what I see. Look at the charts. They are orientated towards image-conscious bands (I wonder who Wayne means!) You have more chances of success if you are pretty boys, rather than good musicians." No further elaboration needed!!
And about the local music scene
'I cannot really comment, as I've only lived in Leeds for about six months but, as you know, we have a local support band - 'Skeletal Family' from Keighley.
The present tour
'On tour we take only the bare essentials. When we go on the road we don't stay in flash hotels and we have only a minimal road crew. This is how we manage to ensure that our tours are cost-effective. Although we plan to tour America next year ('85) we expect to make a loss.
During this tour we have been pleased with the reactions of most of the audiences. In Colchester, for example, we sold out and the crew were really enthusiastic - they went nuts. We had never played there before, so I suppose it's breaking new grounds for us - yet another way of learning our trade.'
Andy (man or myth)
Andy's often misunderstood - people think he is an arrogant bastard, but he isn't. He's really sensible, with a keen sense of humour which is exemplified by his stunt at Birmignham when he misled the media into reporting that a double with a beard was fronting the Sisters. In reality he had grown a beard and sent fictitious post-cards post marked Rio in order to substantiate claims of being out of the country.
Similarly, during the tour I read that Andy had gone awol after one of the gigs. I never noticed his disappearance. Looks like someone's been writing dodgy letters again! Perhaps it is this seeming self-indulgence which makes people think Andy is arrogant.
This tour was put in jeopardy by Andy's illness, the result of years of bodily abuse a heart murmur, thus he is very mortal indeed.
'Speaking collectively, our ambitions are to keep a dignity and pride in what we are doing. If we lose this self respect, then it's time to stop, even if we've the potention to make millions.'
The Sisters of Mercy are four individuals brought together by a love of music. They are keen to succeed but not at the expense of self-respect, very much mortal and without pretensions.
"I'VE WALKED around for an awful number of years now, thinking I was God's gift to something, whatever it was, so I don't mind sitting here acting like some sort of ludicrous prophet. I figure that's my natural role, absurd though it is."
"I mean, I don't even go to the corner shop without figuring, 'Hey! Here goes Andy Eldritch to the corner shop. This is, you know, some kind of a big deal to someone' ..."
Andrew Eldritch, frontman and (more often than not) spokesperson for the Sisters Of Mercy, is one of the world's biggest bastards.
At the same time he is also a minor genius, and one hell of a good talker.
October 1984: The Sisters - with their uniquely neurotic, hammering single, 'Walk Away' just released, and an album, 'First and Last and Always' to follow in January - are eagerly Preparing for Big Things To Come.
That this should be the case comes as no great surprise, for the band - who've risen from originallv setting up theeir own record label, Merciful Release, and gigging around their native Yorkshire, to signing a major deal with WEA within the space of three years - have somehow been destined to succeed almost from the
word 'Go'. Consequentlv it feels like the most natural thinq in the world.
Andy's always felt this way. "If I'm arrogant, I'm no more arrogant than anybody else," he stresses, "I'm just the one person who's stupid enough to say it, as well as think it, I mean, if I sat here pretending to be some modest, humble guy when I‘m an overbearing bastard ..."
"In my particular world, making the sort of music that the Sisters want to make, there have to be one or two overbearing bastards around to make the thing get off the ground, never mind succeed."
The Sisters Qf Mercy are...
Kinda psychedelic. Kinda heavy metal. Kinda groovy. Gary (guitar), Craig (bass), Wayne (another guitar), a vicious drum-machine and Andy, have demonstrated supreme patience and intelligent pacing over the past couple of years building things up, grabbing people's attention, and releasing a series of feverishly good singles climaxing with the indie-Chart topper 'Temple Of Love' - a classic and nothing less.
"I had hoped that we'd be where we are now a year earlier," Andy admits, "that's the oniy differene to the masterplan there's been, and I must confess this is still Masterplan A, although I think that's largely a question of luck."
AS LONG ago as December '82, in the Sisters' debut Sounds cover feature, you said a lot of wild things, Andy, about the band's potential, lots of unbelievable promises, predictions and claims, yet now they don't appear half as preposterous.
"It's hideous isn't it, and I stand by every one of them."
How would you have coped if everything had gone wrong and you'd ended up looking a complete and utter dick?
"It still could, and it has a lot of the time, I mean people have tried, God knows they've tried ..."
"Well, when we constructed ourselves, way back when, we set ourselves up because certain things around us were, we thought, wrong, which necessarily means we've got peple who don't like us very much, because we've set ourselves up in antithesis to the current state of affairs."
"We set ourselves up in deliberate opposition, so you can't expect the people we're opposing to just sit back and take it."
What's kept You going, how do you sustain such momentum ?
"We've suffcient faith in ourselves to know that if it doesn't happen in the next six months, no big Deal, we're going to be around after that and we'll make sure it happens then."
"That's a very good attitude to have if you've got the patience and the strength to make sure it works for you, but most people don't, neither record companies or bands, so if it doesn't happen immediately, or if it doesn't
happen in a certain way, everybody falls out and it's hello oblivion."
The Sisters Of Mercy are ...
Kinda threatening. Kinda grinding. Kinda rock n' roll. "We've got pretty broad horizons, and if not the ability then at least the desire to be able to reach them, or keep pace with them, and it's a lot of fun, we do have a lot of fun, especially these days, because Wayne, since joining the band, has devoted himself to showing us all how to have a remarkably good time."
One of your predictions, two years ago, was of a point in the future where people would stop comparing your vocals with those of Jim Morrison, lan Curtis and the like, and instead compare the voices of up and coming popstars' with your own. This is already happening.
"Nice isn't it."
Indeed it is.
"It's just unfortunate that depending on which year it was, my voicþ got compared to all sorts of people, it was a different person each year, and the thing was it always used to be peopie I didn't like."
"I mean, I don't mind the Jim Morrison bit, so I steered the press onto that for a while. I'll have to steer them onto something else now, because it's getting a bit tedious."
"The thing is, there are so few people who actually dare to go through the whole of their careers singing in a low voice - because it does create technical problems - and after a while you run out of people whom you can, like, steer the press into comparing you with, just for the sake of variation."
The other three Sisters are not here, isn't this important?
"I don't think it makes a great deal of difference, because we are, after all this time especially, pretty united in terms of what we think and how we want to do things, so l'm sure I can speak on behalf of everybody, apart from which if they were here they'd let me do the talking anyway, because I'm the talker."
Do you enjoy interviews?
"I certainly can, and i can certainly hate them; I've a fair feeling which ones I'm going to hate and I try not to do those ones."
Why are you such an interesting bastard?
"My brain works quicker than my mouth, and that's an advantage, and I'll always pause before I say something if I think it's imponant. I'm not the sort of person who'll just, like, gush. "
Tell me, how many times have the Sisters put a foot wrong?
"Well, we haven't ever made any irreparable mistakes, and I think we're learned from all the ones we have made, and we've tried not to repeat them; that's really about as much as anybody can ask, that in itself has taken a colossal amount of application."
The Sisters Of Mercy are...
Kinda skilful. Kinda crahed. Kinda two rearsome electric guitars. "People usually chain their ambitions to their abilities," boasts Andy, "but we tend to do things the other way around, which makes for a somewhat painful life at times, but it's the only way to make life really interesting, and fun, because fun is important."
"It's strange how if you know what you want, and you stay reasonably sharp, how things sort of fall into place," he adds. "Various aspects of what we do, after a long time of seeming a bit evil-looking, have just recently sort of slotted into the jig-saw, and we've ended up with a lot of things we wanted, just like ... out of karma."
At a Sisters Of Mercy concert, Andy, when you look down on the surging, swelling, enthralled and exhausted audience, what goes through your mind, what do you feel for all those people?
"A great deal of responsibility, a tangible sense of responsibility: not so much care, because I've never felt they really needed that much looking after, and I always thought if anybody was feeling vulnerable at the time, it was probably me ... and I get nervous."
You do? You get nervous? You, the singing Shadow of Death?
"Always, because I never figured I was cut out for this sort of work, and I always have to sort of figure out ... God! How am I doing? Not as well as I'd like, because one never is."
"But mostly I feel a great sense of responsibility, and I'm aware that the littlest thing one does, it means something, someone`s going to take it away and use it and make something of it and read something into every tittle action, which is why we take care about every little detail, and that actually doesn't involve as much calculation as you'd think, neither time. "
Do you enjoy performing, is it a great release?
"I never step out of the confines of realising where I am and what I'm doing, only very occasionaliy, and never for the space of a whole song at a time, which hurts me a lot because I wish I did more often, although not all the time. I'd like to be able to spend, on average, at least half of the set, in bits, completely ..."
In your own little world?
"Yeah, I really would, because I've a feeling it might make me sing better, and it might make me communicate what I have to say better, but i can't do that, i don't know why it is ... I mean a lot of bands have a reaily transcendental time onstage, because basically they're bombed out of their boxes. "
The Sisters Of Mercy are...
Kinda loud. Kinda rhythmic. Kinda brain-damaging. "My world is divided into Us, them, and people I don't talk to," Andy drawls.
"Most of the world is actualiy 'us', and I do try to be nice to us, although I think the only way you can get to give something useful to the 'us's of this world, is by being a bastard to the 'them's, because really they are there to be bastards to you, and this is not a world for the weak-willed."
Won't the age-old rock 'n' roll syndrome of album-tour-album grow frustrating for the Sisters? How will they cope with the perils of ending up going around in circles?
"Well, it's an upward spiral, which is somewhat ... it's alright. But life's like that anyway, what we’re in is just an upward spiral within an upward spiral, and if you start getting frustrated by circles and the limitations of
achievement and imagination, then reaily it's time to do the jumping."
What about when you've spiralled your way to the top?
"l'm going for telkinesis, nothing short of being able to demolish Liverpool just by thought-power, which incidentally is the first thing I'd do, nothing short of that would satisfy me."
How do you like the fast-increasing intensity of life as a Sister Of Mercy?
"The only problem is you really just don't get the time to talk to people, which makes them think you're arrogant."
"It's very hard to tell them that if you'd saved time not talking to them, they'd still be able to go out and buy the records, and the records really are still made for them, and if you spend all your time talking to everybody, you'll never get your job done, in which case they wouldn't want to talk to you anyway."
"It's not out of arrogance, it's out ot the knowledge that life is short, and you've got to do the business, you know?"
If fame does come your way, those same people are going to start regarding you as being even more arrogant than they do already.
"Well, they're probably only right, I mean I am, as you know, reasonably arrogant, but that's only because I know I've got things to do, and it's not like I'm selling guns to people, I'm trying to sell something that I think is actually useful, something I felt there was a need for myself, and the only reason I'm concerned with the whole business of being good, is ... I want to be good."
The Sisters Of Mercy are...
Funny. Thunderous. Perfect. "When I have a go at people," explains Andy, "it's only out of a disappointment in them, it's not out of knowing that they're inherently shit, it's just me really trying to tell them, in a rather inarticulate way that they would be more than shit it only they'd put their minds to it."
"It's out of a disappointment in them, or what led them to be mediocre, and of course, the realisation that i myself could be a damn sight better."
Do you mistrust the music press?
"Oh yeah, because I know for a fact that when they can, they will screw you up."
Do people shout things at the Sisters in the street.
"No. they generaily whisper or giggie. We've got a name with a lot of 'S's in,
right, so you can tell by the pattern of quiet speech that's walked past you."
"Yeah, right, you can tell."
Any trouble from disgusting little Yorkshire street-urchins?
"Where I live, they used to have a couple of names for me, but one day I had a little word with them ..."
"They've had a bit of respect instilled into them the hard way. "
Do you think you are a bastard?
"I think it's important to have the power to be, it's only the power which makes a generous act worthwhile, it also puts me in the position where you can actually have the sort of clout that makes a generous act actually mean something ..."
"But yeah, I think I am, because I'm capable at being really cynical, really callous, and really cruel."
In a positive way?
"Oh no, in a negative way, I'm capable of it, I try not to be when it isn't required, but the thing is sometimes it is required: I can't remember
the last occasion, but it's a power that if I lost I'd feel worried and unable to cope."
"Because despite my faith in the potential of human nature, most of what I see is reasonably unpleasant, in the world at large, and I think you've got to be strong to handle that, and that strength means having both sides to your nature."
Is there any one ideal situation - such as on record, onstage, on sulphate - in which to experience the Sisters?
"It's everything, and that's really tough, because we do tend to overstate whichever aspect we're playing on at any given moment."
"We've never been very concerned about presenting the whole of the jig-saw, we just take one bit at a time and try to do that bit, maybe even overdo it just to get the point over."
"The whole Sisters Of Mercy jig-saw is kind of tough. I know what it is in my head, but I've never really been able to articulate it in one go, or in any one way, so I don't expect all ears to be able to receive it in any one way."
"It's like, I've got a solitary coherent idea at the back of my head, I find various diffuse ways of expressing it, and if people take all these, receive them, and then assimilate them, maybe they'll end up with the same idea at the back of their heads."
"But you've got to go through all those different mediums, you've got to break it up to put it together again, if you're going to transmit it, which is actually more fun anyway. Besides which it keeps me in a job."
The Sisters Of Mercy are ...
All about being nervous. Frightened. Habitually glancing over your shoulder. "I think paranoia's actually quite a reasonable thing to feel these days." says Andy. "I really don't think in 1984 you can be too paranoid."
When you look at the state of the world around you, does it make you sad?
"No, because I'm a product of the world as it is, not of the world how I'd like it to be, so i fit into it very well because I'm very much a product of it, and I feed off those bad things just as much as the things which could be nicer if it were a more pleasant world."
"I have a twentieth century aesthetic which means I really appreciate how beautiful napalm is, and I find the gesture of total atomic oblivion wonderfully fascinating and attractive: I know that when the balloon goes up, it's going to look really good, and it's going to make a noise like you've never heard."
And you'll not hear it ever again.
"Yeah, and that affects me in every way, not just like, 'Oh God, that's awful', because in a lot of ways it ain't, you know?"
"I've a twentieth century mentality, and I can actually sit here quite happily and say, yeah, it's going to be a-marzing, man!"
Did you ever pull the wings off insects as a child, Andy?
"I used to think about it a great deal, but I didn't actualiy do it."
When you look in the mirror do you go: "Nice one!"?
"When I look at the legs, yeah, I'm still very proud of my legs, brilliant legs."
The Sisters Of Mercy are...
Kinda sexy. Kinda rude. Kinda useful. "If you want it to," declares Andy, "being involved with music will enable you to use a very great deal of yourself; I mean I could be doing a lot of other things, but I chose, a long time ago, to do this, because it looked like I could be a politician, an artist, a musician, a tyricist, a prat, be hated, be liked, die young ..."
All at the same time.
"Which is what i want. There's a lot ot space there in which one can work."
Wouldn't you be of more use to society doing something practical, like building washing-machines?
"No, because I wouldn't actually be any good at building washing-machines, and there's got to be someone out there who is, and he's probably doing it, you see."
"Having said this, you know what'll happen, in five years' time i'll meet you in the street, and it'll be, 'Andrew! What are you doing these days?' 'Actually, I'm buildig these really great washing-machines ..."
The Sisters Of Mercy are ...
Full of litle subtletles. A dream of a pop group. In complete control. "There's a supreme logic to almost any combination of the things we could decide to do," Andy brags, "because the basic principle is we please ourselves, and that's about as logical as you can actually get."
The Sisters Of Mercy are...
Arrogant. Dangerous. Utter bastards. Do you think maybe you're not as clever as I think you are?
"I do, I think you'd be amazed, because I don't regard whatever cleverness have as being that relevant, not nearly as relevant as staying alive to what's happening around oneself, being at pains to analyse it and one's place within it, and just generally working, workin and thinking."
"It's more important than being a clever bastard, I mean that helps..."
Ghoulish and pervese, The Sisters of Mercy have a new single ready for you inspection. Adam Sweeting cornered Sister Andy in pizza house. Tom Sheehan forced him to pose for pictures.
The thin man wore black, as usual. He crossed the road furtively, leaning forward to overcome wind resistance pressing against his narrow frame. Passing motorists swerved in amazement, thinking High Holborn had become haunted by translucent night creatures inexplicably choosing to walk across the road instead of flying.
Andrew Eldritch was going about his business. The world turned uneasily.
The Sisterhood are currently back in harness after a setback or two. They've been working on their debut LP for some time and the release of the item, originally planned for this autumn, has now been put back to the New Year. Eldritch phoned me one night - out of the blue, from an unknown location, such is his wont - to explain why the long-player wouldn't be materialising for a bit after all. "I've been in hospital", he said flatly.
This was alarming. He'd collapsed in the studio in the middle of the night, having realised thing were not as they might have been when poeple he engaged in conversation began to change colour and bend out of shape. No, not acid, just exhaustion and not enough to eat.
However, with a major British tour currently under way and a new single "Walk Away", about ot impact itself against the nation's eardrums, Eldritch is (amazingly) recovered. To prove it, he let me buy him a pizza. "I've put on a stone and a half", he smirked proudly. He still lookas as overweight as a credit card and his complexion remains a brilliant white, but mind and body are in sync and ticking away smoothly.
The conversation rambled on over coffees. The new material, Andy promised, would sound different, largely as a result of the intergration into the Sisters Of Mercy ranks of guitarist Wayne Hussey. Wayne, formerly hired man with Pete Burns' Dead Or Alive, has added several layers of muscle to the Sisters, both live and on record. Months ago, Eldritch treated me to a sneak preview of some rough instrumental demos the band had thrown togethter as a preliminary to serious refining and restructuring. Over a snaking spine of bass and drum machine, guitarists Hussey and Gary Marx were weaving dreamy lattices of melody, darting in an dout like the details ia Persian carpet.
"I think this stuff's gonna be incredible, like nothing we've ever done before", said Andy, visibly moved. He still hadn't written any words to go with the tunes - shortly, he would vanish into the night with pencil and paper to get on with just that.
There is (I told him) a definite pshydedelic dimension to the music you're making these days.
Eldritch pondered. "We listen to an awful lot of that stuff", he said, "and that's the stuff that for us best encapsulates the various sides of what we do. It had more facets to it, that stuff, and it combined them and no-one questioned it's abilty to combine them."
Now it seems that people aren't concered at whether you can combine the facets of what you do, because so many elements of the media deny that it's even possible to do it. It's okay for pop bands to do it, but rock bands arent allowed to do it because that would be quite a cool thing to do... and it's not in the interests of most of the media right now to put forward the idea that rock band are at all cool. And I use the word 'cool' advisedly."
Ofcourse, Eldritch has always seen himself, his group and their work in monumental terms - like some crumbling Gothic edifice, perhaps located in the satanic envirions of Leeds where the Sisters are still centered, the group's music is full of looming shadows and vast perspectives that deceive the eye. Consider Andy's designs and artwork for the group,too...sharp but decaying, gradeur being gnawed away by corruption. Eldritch confeses, with a twinge of guilt, to a fixation with the trappings and imagery of High Anglicanism. There may be a few things he believes in too, beneath his carefully nurtured carapace of irony and detachment.
He reminiseced. "I ha d along discussion with this fellow called Luke from a Belgian radio station, who'd given me his programme to look after, about whether I should really play 'Jerusalem' during it. He was telling me how his child reacted to it, who was too young to know anything about music - who doesn't speak English and who doesn't even know what 'Jerusalem' means...there is something there which is very, very dangerous. It made this child... not march but dance in a very funny way."
"I think if 'Jerusalem' was the British national anthem, we'd be in trouble. We'd be out invading all sorts of people who'd pulverise us. We'd get pulped by everybody - we'd be taking them on all the time."
The Sisters' own invasions the European mainland ha(ve?) given them new ways of looking at Britain and it's quaint instituations. In Maastrich, Eldritch had to jump on a white supremacist waving a Skrewdriver/Union Jack tee-shirt. In Germany, the Sisters have found a home from home. "I spend so much time abroad", Andy growled, "that I find the parochial and isolationist tendencies of the British increasingly abnoxious."
"Walk Away", the new single, is a further speciemen of Sisters Of Mercy, multinational-style. In the sense, it follows logically from "Body And Soul", through this time around the Sisters have introudced a dank murmur of piano to embellish the song's robust chorus and road-drill guitars. The song has a rigid skull beneath it's melodic skin, and therefore isn't the most magical or atmospheric thing the group have ever done. I think I'd describe it merely as "okay"...much more promising is a song called "On The Wire", doled out as a bonus track on the 12 inch. Here, the guitars tigheten like garrotting wire while Eldritch's bewildered vocal is pummelled from all side by bass and rump-kicking percussion.
And then there's another track called "Marian" schedueled for the album. I know I shouldn't tell you this really, but it's a like "The Ancient Mariner Meets Leewis Carroll", heavy with the reek of nightmare, a-twitter with lost souls wandedering in the twilight zone. Even here, the band's buoyant, elestic playing and Eldritch's Roger Corman vocal suggest the plop of tongue in check... or do they?
"I think as fas as politics go, we feel we make a soundtrack for people who are politically vaguely the same as us, and that in itself is a sufficient contribution, and if we were to do any more it would be counterproductive", explained Andy. "The second side of "Reptile House" is far and away the most political thing I've ever written" (that's "Valentine", "Fix" and "Burn"). "Whenever anybody asks me about the place of politics in music I point to that as a damn fine example. But to do any more would make for boring records for people that already agree with us, and wouldn't get listened to by the people who don't."
"The only people who can afford to do that are the people who are already immensely famous and then decide to make a political record. Then, of course, the get laughed at."
If there's any laughing to be done around here, Andy will do it himself, thanks. He got up to leave - a German TV crew was waiting to film an interview with him, always assuming that his image could be recorded by their cameras.
"I pass, like night, from land to land;
I have strange power of speech..."
Afte leaving their own Merciful Release for WEA, the Sistes of Mercy have seen two consecutive top 50 singles. In this the beginning of the rise to even greater prominence? We attempt to discover what's behind the dry ice and sunglasses with guitarist Mark:
After a succession of single releases on their own Merciful Release to the last two on WEA, and one mini LP, we ask when will the first album see the light?
"January; it's been put back due to Andy Eldritch's illness; he was completely exhausted; hallucinating. Despite this, part of him still wanted to carry on, althought he other part knew that he had to stop because he was so ill."
What will the composition of the new album?
"It's a good mixture of songs; not just in the pace. A lot of them are of a similar pace, just different depths of intensity and a couple of them are quite gentle; but in a 'epic' sort of way. In the recording of the album, after each session Andy would say "But is it epic" and we'd go "Yeah Andy, it's great" and he'd go back and do it again - Andy's a complete perfectionist."
The Sisters still don't employ a dummer - why is this?
"We've never looked for one beyond the first week of existing, we just got a batter drum machine. The drum machine we've got now sounds like a drummer anyway. It's cheaper, doesn't fall out with you and doesn't take up any room on stage. There's a lot of practical advantage and I think that because we started out with one and we're used to writing witha drum machine it became a intergral part of the set-up."
Despite this is there still a definate progression?
"Yes, it's more towards songs and singing. Andy's very concious that he wants to sing because he thinks that the music around him a getting better and feel he should be able to sing better - he wants to kill people with his voice" - Fine sentiments no doubt!
Whilst Andy was trying to murder the audience - what did Mark think to the York festival?
"I enjoyed York but no-one else did. We had a lot of equipment problems; every time the wind blew it blew the sound. You would just get into something when the wind would change and the sound disappear completely.
It was the first open air gig in this country. In Germany we played a big festival, six bands in one day, it was really squalid, and a miserable day."
Not a very favourable impression, but how important is it to the Sisters to branch out and go abroad?
"I think it's good, you get a different point of view over there, sometimes you can get very tied down here; most people say the same things about you. Over there you get different responses and fashions are not important, so they take you as what you are. It's good, you need to do it financially because England isn't the biggest place in the world.
We played the 'New Music Seminar' in New York and then The Ritz with 'Black Flag' - another night of music and bottles - progression!"
This was after the gig in Glasgow on the current tour when bottles and spitting were apparently a sign of a good response! "I thought we had said goodbye to that a logn time ago" he retorted.
The Sisters of Mercy's signing to WEA from their own 'Merciful Release' must hav shocked many of their black clad fans. With time to reflect, how does Mark now see this decision?
"I'm actually amazed we're on such good terms. A few years ago I'd have been the first to say - 'A major record company - dodgy' but they've been really good and let us get on with it. That was teh best thing."
Do they put any pressure on you at all?
"No, not really; the only thing they've said so far that's gone against what we thought was that we should not have brought "Walk Away" out as a single yet. We should have saved it; they thought it was so good."
An impression that WEA have of all of the new material and therefore won't be re-releasing any of the old material as they did with Aztec Camera and 'Oblivious'. Will the charts survive without 'Alice'? - who knows?
"A lot of it comes down to the fact that we took quite a while to sign to anyone and we've proved that we know what's best. We know when to bring out a fast and when to bring out a slow one - we know who the people who buy our records are."
How important is commercial success then?
"Well we spent so much money making records so we've go to get that much back to make the next one and we've got to survive, which is all we've ever done so far. We need to make a lot of money to repay the cost of the LP as it's run so much over budget."
Incidentally, it is being produced by Dave Allen, who did the last two Cure albums and is an ex-companion of Martin 'Dare' Rushent.
On the current music scene, Mark describes his current listening as "eclectic" - Suzi Quatro, Alex Harvey and Manfred Mann amongst others - I couldn't argue.
On the current crop of independents.
"I quite like the 'Skeletal Family', but I usually say that about bands we play with. 'New Model Army' are very good, but I can't see how they'll progress in terms of selling. They're not handsome enough to be 'The Alarm' (I didn't know they were handsome!) or have an image like 'The Clash' to be 'Rebel Rockers'; they've got to get the message across to everybody else. At the moment they're just playing to people who know what they say. Most people would agree with what they're saying - it's just common sense, but what's the point in going on stage and having loads of people going 'Yeah, yeah, yeah'."
On the subject of politics, do the band have any strong views?
"I wouldn't say so, we don't sit down and say 'this is what we think about that'. It's like a fairly strong morality. We steer clear of sloganeering. I thing we've done some fairly political songs like 'Valentines Day'. I think it worked better because we didn't say 'Get rid of the Royal Family, they're a useless waste of money' or 'Margaret Thatcher is a Fascist'. It's just a song that evoked a bit of emotion. It said those things in a different way."
Finally, there was great disappointment in the Sisters camp when 'Walk Away' failed to reach the Top 40.
"We went in at 49, which was a bit of a blow, sounds a bit arrogant but we did think we would make the 40, we got to 46 with 'Body And Soul' and we think 'Walk Away' is miles better."
They also failed to achieve another of their ambitions - to get on Top of the Pops, however their cinematrographic aspriations do not end there.
"We're trying to arrange a football match with Spandau Ballet, we've been told they've got the best football team of anyone in the music business; they're all fitness fanatics. So we thought we could go and get drunk and thwor up over and kick Gary Kemp to death - make it into a 'Play at Home' programme" - we look forward to the transmission.
Somewhere in darkest Soho, the Sisters Of Mercy are holding court. The fellows who brought you such sensitive ballads as 'Anaconda', 'Reptile House' or the current tune 'Body And Soul', are in London to record a sessin for John Peel and have deigned to open themselves up to the scrutiny of the press.
Well, not literally of course, but with all this record company blurb of "squalid little nightclubs" and strange nocturnal doings by the Sisters, anything could happen. So what is all this doom and decadence then?
"Well," answeres guitarist Wayne Hussey, late of Dead Or Alive and looking like a refugee from Woodstock, "I play badminton a lot, Mike milks cows and Craig watches television. Craig's the decadent one really. He's a bad influence on us."
Such repartee is the stuff Sisters Of Mercy are made of. Like when singer Andrew Eldritch is asked abouttheir live performances.
"Oh they're very sexy," he answers in a bored monotone, "and we try not to play in daylight that's for sure!" Pretty wild, eh?
A talkative soul is Andrew. Acting like a elongated Artful Dodger, he obiviously believes in never giving a serious answer when a 'wacky' one will do. One thing the Sisters are serious about, though, is that they are not labelled a 'gothic punk' or 'Batcave' band.
Asked to describe their sound Andrew smiles enigmatically from behind his shades: "It's great," (pauses for impact of words to sink in) "it's Sisters music."
And there is a definitive Sisters style too, one which their fans find hard to follow because the band keep on their toes, throwing them "wobblers" now and again to reamin one step ahead.
"We have no other clothes", they explain as Andrew sists wasted and elegant in an all-black little number incorporating the latest in knee-cap ventilation. More striking though is guitarist Gary Marx, wearing a sensitive green and yellow paisley print thing with frilly cuffs. It's probably the uglies shirt ever made. Spandau Ballet? Phoeey!
All of which it seems, is appreciated everywhere aprt from Bournemouth.
"The only pople in the audience when we played there were a jazz funk band, a couple of widows, a retard and a dog. The west country is a sort of strange place for us...except Plymouth. Plymouth is OK."
Sisters Of Mercy are perparing to record their first album since signing their Merciful Release label to WEA earlier this year. Magastardom is sure to follow.
"Well, you have to have those things", they say, "it's all a matter of consequence of what you're doing."
"A people come to this, beyond the age of reason" - 'Valentine', Sisters Of Mercy
I stumbled across the Sisters Of Mercy purely by chance, very early in 1982. They were playing in the unprepossessing surroundings of York University's Vanbrugh College, pumping their rising tide of drum machine, torrential guitars and Andrew Eldritch's spastic, bleached-out notion of performance across the floor as though wreaking a remorseless vengeance. It was traumatic and also very hypnotic.
It was a prototype Sisters at that time. Jon Langford, once a Mekon and now a Three John, was on bass, while guitarist Ben Gunn (a kind of Molesworth rewired for guerrilla warfare) hid behind his heavy-rimmed specs. Ben would eventually leave in the summer of 1983, to be replaced by former Dead Or Alive desperado Wayne Hussey, though not before he'd contributed to a string of dank singles.
But, as Andy Eldritch has observed, there are no fundamental differences between that early Sisters and the somewhat more refined beast we witness today. "Our parameters are defined purely by what we feel comfortable with, and they're pretty wide," Andy reckons. Eldritch doesn't argue with my description of him as he highly intelligent egomaniac. He adds: "I always took a very grandoise view of things. That was tempered with a willingness to see the bastard thing through and make it work."
Not long after I ran across the Sisters, they release a double A-sided single comprising 'Adrenochrome' (an especially teeth-clenching substance one favoured byt Dr Hunter S. Thompson) and 'Body Electric'. Both can be seen in retrospect as primal statements of Sisterly intent, useful signposts to a career of evil.
'Body Electric' still seems to me as crucial a freeze-frame of Eldritch's habitual state of mind as anything the Sisters have done. He would probably tell you it was about 'sensory overload':
too much contact no more feeling
the sound around them all
acid on the floor so she walk son the ceiling
and the body electric flashes on the bathroom wall
Eldritch, a multi-linguist and crossword fetishist, hides in his gaunt white frame a mind of rare sensitivity, a keenly-tuned sense of humour, and a fastidiousness which threatens to undo him even while he adopts his vampiric stance at the microphone. He is also something of a traditionalist, a lover of the finer things bout what we know as 'rock' but exasperated by the dullards who have the gall to claim the great tradition for themselves.
"We like a very loud noise, we like a good tune," he once told me. "We like the relentlessness of classic rock music...heavy metal." You can detect in his artwork for the band, with its starkly-etched icongraphy, an oppressive sense of essence. Or absolutism...
"There was one great heavy metal group and that was The stooges, and there's only two bands around that can touch them, and they're Motorhead and the Birthday Party. We're not as good ast Motorhead but we're better than the Birthday Party. That makes us pretty damn good." (Andrew Eldritch, February 1982)
With their own Merciful Release label now affiliated to the WEA conglomerate, might the Sisters be inclined to hear a little away from their particular idiosyncracies towards something more like common ground? Eldritch has never bothered to deny that he has great ambitions for the band. They like unfashionable things like touring, America and of course 'rock' itself (mind you, they used drum machines long before anybody ever said hiphop), and listening to the records they've released, you can hear progression of various kinds.
'Body And Soul', for instance, is relatively direct, almost outspoken in Sisters terms...but it was designed to address a wider congregation than, for instance, the fascinatingly sluggish material which filled the 'Reptile House' EP. That was (according to Andy) a "slower and heavier" phase he had to get out of his system come what may. Only a qualified success perhaps, though the cold steel crawl of 'Valentine' and the psychedelic flamenco of 'Burn' are key moments in Sisters' canon. 'Valentine', in particular, find Eldritch in political - almost polemical - mood.
He says: "'The Reptile House' is pure politics and 'After Hours' is pure sex." There, the answer on a plate. Simple, eh?
Punchline: "To all those people who says 'there are no underlying deeper things in rock'n'roll music', teh fact is that people will read them in if they're nto tehre and that in itself means they are there. Popular consent puts them there."
So, Sisters Of Mercy continue to tread the tin and treacherous line between noise and sound, thought and expression, mayhem and mockery, the facetious and the fatuous. It's a high-wire act they've already proved themselves extremely adept at performing. It is important, for many reasons, that they continue to make gains and capture new ground.
Well of course, the writer of these replies (Mr.X, as we shall call him) is a very intelligent person. It took me a while to catch on to his wavelenght, but I think I'm there now. Mr X is trying to out-provoke what are admittedly deliberately provocative questions. So I'm not offended because I can see the joke. This interview is no world-wide scoop, just an extension of that Sisters humour we all know and love. We must not fall into the trap of taking anything Mr X says seriously.
Q1: Do you beelive that you achive a variety in subject matter where lyrics are concerned or do you see this sphere as subordinate to general musical atmospheres that you feel you must maintain?
There is a fine line between coherent and over-similar; A fine line between monotony and effective repetitions, etc. It all come out of the same head, whose predilections, preocupations snf pretensions are as homogenous as its contradictions allow. All comes out, what do you read in? READ BETWEEN THE LINES... The only atmospehre maintained is done unconsciously and indirectly... As usual, we do whatever the hell we like.
Q2: Can you see a finite goal for the 'Sisters Of Mercy'; a point at which you know you will call it a day; or, in the finest HM tradition will we see the 10 year anniversary gig at the U & A?
You assume too mcuh, I cannot answer without questioning the presumptions this ludicrous question is based on.
Q3: The old 'new hopes' such as Siouxsiw, The Cure etc have taken to signle massive venue gigs taht betray the tradition of hardsweat live toil. Is the live still alive with the Sisters; or will we see the band retiring to W.Berlin?
You are a BIGOT. We live in the real world (in which, incidentally, Heaven is as close to all of us as the East German broder, which is a slocse to ALL of us. Rethink your use of words again. Loaded questions based on several spurious assumptions and severe ignorance appal me. Ever heard the word LOGISTICS? You are an ELITIST.
Q4: Do you have much respect for current musical trends carried by the Nat music press?
I have no respect for any musical trends and nothing but contempt for the music press generally, local music and fanzines are uniformly appalling, but I doubt you would understand why. Explaining it (except though the bands work, as we do0 would take too long: LOGISTICS.
In reply:.. Hmm..very considerate...best not2try to explain when you can't, I s'pose.
Q5: Do you beleive anyone is doing anything new? Admitting that you are a "very cliched rock n' roll band", can you see any new directions, if so, what are your comments on them and do you care anyway?
As you should realise, the most effective form of communication is the manipulation of cliches, and the forming of new hybrids is the only rational aim. The only differnce between the Sisters and everyone else is the admission. Why do you use the word "admission"? You imply that it is derogatory? At least we are honest - you are not even being honest to yourself (again) - Everybody's involved with manipulating cliches and if you will not see it you contribute to mass self-delusion. What the hell do you expect? do you think anyone else is doing anything other than manipulating cliches? I give up -.
In reply...But you don't do you Mr X? And we all know why don't we Mr X? Just another cheap publicity stunt of a stunted ego? Or another exercise in creating a genuine(?) Bad Ass reputation? No it's not that at all, of course. You are really a sweet person Mr X, but just a little mischevous. I must point out to anyone who thinks you're real mean bastard, that these answers are of course, a sham. And I'm laughing too. Ha.Ha.Ha.
Q6: Are you insulted by comments on you aesthetic outlook? Is this area one of concern to you or are you anti-trends by practice?
God knows why i still let it annoy me. God knows why you're loaded questions get any response at all - they're your problem. Can't you see how obviously your pre-suppositions are written in?
Q7: Does the local area's scene interest or concern you? Do you believe Merciful Release is doing all it can in the Leeds area or is it now largely effette? Would you do a benefit for the local scene?
When did you stop beating your wife? Do we come from Mars? Are we reasonably overworked and still investing where we can? Has anyone but incompetent morons ever asked us and do they ever acknowledge (or even realise) the issues involved? HA HA HA, NO, YES, NO.
In reply...Of course, Mr X, everyone sympathisers with all the hard work the Sister's must endure. Your concern is what's most appreciated. Do Salvation realise the are incompetent morons? Perhaps you should it to them, Mr. X?
Q8: Have you ever occupied yourselves with any other areas of the "music business" - production or promotion for example; or does the whole set up reek of second generation capitalist "trendies"?
So you've had a hard time, have you? I see. Any set up reeks of whoever's got the bottle and ability to get in there and make it work for them. We get in there - as you should know - and it reeks of us. Your circular argument makes us what? No, don't tell me, I think I know...
In reply...Well Mr. X, what about your presuppositions? How can you determine an 'argument' from a single, simple question? As for 'circularity' - that's something you've determined - perhaps a hint of paranoid defensiveness?
Q9: Signing to WEA from a position of strength has enabled you to retain artistic control. Do you see yourselves as generally dominant types? Perfectionists?
Yes and Yes. How do you think a position of strength is attained? Why do you think you've not attained it?
Q10: You have little respect for the music press on the whole; do you have any respect for all those people who a) do fanzines/move in the alternative scene or b) buy your records - even the "goths"?
The only movements I see are bowel movements. Do you know the saying: "You can't kick shit without you only get your boots dirty?" Try thinking about individuals. Any individual willing to subjugate is fair game - the others, bless them, they are my friends. P.S. Respect is earned, and we earn sales. Individuals buy records.
Q11: TOTP is now a strong possibility and must raise questions about the widening of your appeal. Do you feel your whole raison d'etre may be changed, possibly only gradually, as has happened with others taht have taste more widespread success? Is it just a question of taking it in your stride or is there a fixed strategy for the future; or just a number of things you would or would not do?
So TOTP doesn't fit into our original masterplan as YOU perceive it..your problem, sucker. So you don't think the masterplan involves success, so you don't like TOTP, so you don't hae faith in our music, so you don't want the masses to have faith in us, so you don't want us to communicate via mass communications - your problem!
In reply...Yes, well this reply was so ludicrously non-sequitor that it finally convinced me of Mr, X's plan. Next time RETHINK YOUR USE OF WORDS AGAIN and perhaps you may appear more genuine. You are not being honest to yourself.
Q12: Do you deal with all the subordinate areas of your music, such as this interview, with strict organisation or in a very informal manner?
Don't really know - talk to my lawyer. HA HA HA. Always remember this - ON THE EIGHT DAY, GOD WENT SURFING.
In reply...HA HA HA, It's the way you tell them Mr. X.
This was a postal interview sent in by ... Gary Kitchener.
N.B. Everyone here at BLACK reckons that the little tinker who replied to GARY's questions was ANDY ELDRITCH. Wot do you fink?
A grand shame, really, that those Thompson Twins should use the name of Leeds' most bat-infested ensemble for the title of one of their revolting hits. In all, '84 couldn't really be described as a classic year for The Sisters, despite regular sojourns in the indie charts and good reviews of their autumn UK tour. Andrew Eldritch, a human toast-rack, revealed to the Maker that he'd had a few personal difficulties.
During studio sessions for The Sisters' still-awaited debut long-player, he'd begun to see strange shapes and colours when engaged in apparently harmless conversations with bystanders. This had delayed the group's progress while Andy went away for a few square meals and a cup of Horlicks. Meanwhile, he'd been pondering the state of the nation. "I think if 'Jerusalem' was the British national anthem, we'd be in trouble," he said strangely. "We'd be out invading all sorts of people who'd pulverise us." Just hurry up with that album willya?
Up-and-coming new bands never seem to get much exposure - until they're famous! Well, we've decided to change all that with our new feature.
This week's victim is Wayne Hussey of Sisters Of Mercy.
How did Sisters Of Mercy get together?
Well, I suppose you could say it was through the Job Centre! We put up and advert that said. "Band forming - needs new members.* I must admit we had a few mishaps with taking on the wrong people. However, eventually we settled on the lads who're in the line-up now.
How would you describe your music?
I can't. I'll leave you to make up your own minds.
How would you describe the way you look?
Wonderful and sexy! Actually, I reckon we look like the first and last beings on Earth. I consider wearing clothes as a necessary evil - if it wasn't so cold I wouldn't wear anything! I'm definitely not a follower of fashion. Neither are any of the band. We all wear really tasteless shirts which are either given to us as presents or made by friends. We're too poor to buy shirts - and anyway, on-one sells shirts like we wear.
Who's actually in the band?
Well, there's me (Wayne). I play guitar. There's also Andrew Eldritch, our singer, Gary Marx and Craig Adams. our dummer's a machine called Doktor Avalanche!
You've got your own record label - Merciful Release - do you have a lot to do with the running of this?
We do most of it ourselves. We make all the major business decisions and nothing can happen without our say-so. We do have other people to do all the day-to-day things, though, so we can get on with our own hand.
What other groups are on your label?
At the moment, there's just us. However, we've got an LP coming out from Salvation, another Leeds group.
Do you have a strong following?
Yes - they're wonderful. They all follow us about when we're on tour. They're all been with us so long they're friends now rather than fans. They don't really copy us with their hairstyles and clothes - they've got too much sense to do that.
Do you enjoy touring?
Yes, it's great! We all have a great time on tour, but we also like recording. It's two totally different forms of satisfaction.
Why did you go to America when most bands - especially ones on independent labels - make a point of shunning the USA?
America's a great place! They really appreciate our music across there. In Britain, musical tastes change according to fashion, but Americans have like the same type of music for years, and luckily we seem to get their mould. I reckon we'll probably end up being more famous in the USA than in the UK in the long run. America's also a great place to live. Everybody lives for the moment.
Do Sisters Of Mercy get on well as friends?
No, we hate one another! Actually, we're really good friends, a very happy bunch of mates. We often fight amongst ourselves, but that's because we reckon it's better to hit one another than other people.
What's your favourite way of spending a night out?
We don't go out very often. We're totally obnoxious when we got out and don't suffer fools, which means we often get into arguments.
What's been the worst moments in your musical career?
It was in Manchester last summer when we were doing a gig. I often stand on the monitor at the front of the stage and this night Craig decided to give me a friendly (!) kick and I fell off the stage! I was lying on the ground amongst the audience - I don't know what hurt most, my pride or my back! Anyway, I picked myself up and continued the show. Craig just laughed. Well, what else could he do? I had to go to the hospital afterwards, though, but luckily my back's better now!
What's been the best moments of your musical career?
Last night. No, I'm not telling you why!!!
You were in Dead or Alive, why did you leave?
I was jealous of Pete Burns' wife! No, actually, it was because I didn't like the direction their music was taking. It had strayed form what I believed in. Even though they're really hit the big time now. I'm glad I'm not there with them. I couldn't have gone along with their 'poppy' image. No matter how many compensatinos success may have, it's never enough to make up for turning your back on what you believe in.
Did you read Jackie?
Yes, I used to get it for the David Cassidy pin-ups!
Dave Dickinson stands back in amazement as the Sisters Of Mercy, prime purveyors of decay, darkness and doom, confess to actually having a sense of humour and being fans of Led Zeppelin!
I'm trapped by this medium. There is so much I wouls like to tell you about the Sisters Of Mercy but I am limited not only by the confines of space, here a mere few thousand words, but also by the very nature of this medium - i is an inadequte form of expression to convey the vast, indeed awsome, scope of the Sisters' work.
The Sisters Of Mercy present a distincly tangible art form that cannot really be properly communicated through the pages of this or any other magazine. It is not enough to see, or hear, or even read abut the Sisters, you have to feel them.
Our bodies meet, out fingers touch: to become eveloped in the Sisters Of Mercy is somethign that has taken me over two years, watching them develop and mature into perhaps the only act capable of perfectly articulating all the fears and anxieties, the paranoia and even the humour to which I am prone. To find a band so acutely in tune with everything you have ever felt or known, feared or desire is something akin to a revelation.
The Sisters Of Mercy have just released the first album in their four year history, 'First And Last And Always'; and it is the single most powerful piece of music I have heard for some considerable time - perhaps since I first encountered 'Heroes' or 'Berlin' or even 'Desertshore'.
Even this early in the year I now privately doubt that there can possibly be any other product to touch it - not from a technical point of view, there will be many that are better played and better produced, but from teh context of so strong and intimate a relationship between performer and audience. The Sisters Of Mercy are finally arriving and I am thrilled by all the possibilities that entails.
For a long, long time the Sisters Of Mercy - Andrew Eldritch, vocals; Gary Marx and Wayne Hussey, guitars; Craig Adams, bass; Doktor Avalance, drums - have stood on the periphery of the rock world, releasing the occasional single on their own independent label, Mercyful Release (based out of their home town, Leeds) waiting for the right moment to hit the mainstream with their debut album.
That moment arrived last October but was offset by the collapse from exhaustion of Eldritch. Eldritch's health remains tentative; to recover he retired to Rome for Christmas dosed up on a doctor's prescirption of morphine. The man walks a tightrope, precariously balanced, while Death awaits gaping below.
It may be this year, it may be next: "Even I've not decided how far I'm prepared to push it," admits Eldritch, "I was told last year, you can push it to this extent and you'll die before '85 is out, or this extent and you'll die before you're 26, or this extent and you'll live but very unhealhty, or that extent and you'll get by fine."
Eldritch's attitude towards his health is symptomatic of the entire Sisters philosophy - not so much carefree as darkly realistic. It's a question of finding the right balance between doing what the world would consider sensible and what the Sisters would consider right.
It is a common misconception that the Sisters Of Mercy are about Andrew Eldritch and little else, but he has come to represent them, at least in the public eye.
The Sisters' image is encapsulated in Eldritch's cadeverous features and permanantly sunglass-shielded eyes, the black, almost Dickensian garb...and for being absolute s**ts to journalists: "We are not prepared to get s**ts upon," explains Eldritch, "we have worked long enough and hard enough to have faith in our own jugdement and the ability to exectute it...and that's something that makes a lot of people very uncomfortable. And we flaunt that in such a way that it upsets a lot of people; we feel, however, no shame. But it's in a cuse that is beyond us - if we felt it was purely for selfadvancement, then fair enough, but we've sacrificed so much of ourselves and satisfied so many of our own criteria along the way that we don't feel that faith as arrogance. We don't feel ourselves to be arrogant but we do recognise our projection to be that of a bastard band."
That sacrifice, though, has clearly been immense throughout all those years in the wilderness. "We've sacrificed a great deal of our lives for this. We've sacrificed ourselves business-wise, personally, domestically...we've trashed our lives and we're not about to sell that short!"
And not selling that sacrifice short meant spending four years since Eldritch and Gary marx frist formed the Sisters, proving their capability as a band before hitching up with the WEA conglomerate in a deal that: "Met our financial requirements, a points offer that met our requirements and an artistic control offer that met our requirements."
The wait for that artistic control may have been long but it was always carefully orchestrated; there were never any doubts?
"Sisters," emphasises Eldritch, slowly and deliberately, "do not doubt."
Similarly, there can be no doubting the sheer strenght and power of this first album, qualiteies that have arrived in the Sisters' music not least due to the acquistition of former Dead Or Alive guitarist Wayne Hussey. But one aspect that remains a constant in the Sisters' music is their dalliance with the darker side of life, the decay, the fear, the alienation.
"We write about the world as it is," dismisses Eldritch, "if people can't handle that that's their problem. Our music deals with a harsh world."
Are you a pessimist?
"That's not a fair question. That implies a degree of mental inbalance. I think we're realists, and we realise it's not a particularly nice world but I don't think that makes us pessimists...although taht's how most people would percieve that."
"We don't attempt to sloganeer or lead anyone into a pitch battle against the power-that-be, but if we can make people's lives better by giving thema musical sound-track to those lives then we're doing something constructive."
"First And Last And Always" too, contains some of Eldritch's most personal statements yet commited to vinyl to the extent that some of the material is "dangerously autobigraphical". Is he afraid of giving too much of himself away?
"After a few years you begin to regard yourself as public property, as someone with nothing left to hide at all. But at the same time you feel the need to express that rather obliquely to keep it interesting for yourself...apart from which that's the way I'm used to expressing things and the way I like doing it."
This oblique expression also spills over on to the Sisters' sleeve designs, work for which, until now, Eldritch has gone uncredited in keeping the Sisters' striving to maintain a corporate, rather than an individual, identity. But the covers - "they're all ripped-off" - are attempts to convey another side to the Sisterss characher, one that seems largely ignored by the press: their humour.
"We discovered early on that the humour we put in the music really didn't come across, in fact it was hampering the music. So about the time of the 'Reptile House' EP (1983) we started getting more serious in the music and proceeded to emphasis the fact that the covers really established the idea of 'product' - anf rom where they're ripped-off establishes the idea of humour."
(The 'Reptile House' EP cover, for instance, is actually stolen from the sleeve of Alice Cooper's "Billion Dollar Babies"!)
But even this aspect is still steeped in osncurity and in-jokes. The Sisters are portrayed as purveyors of darkness and doom, and worst of all, as having no sense of humour. Eldritch, however, manages to pull off the best imitation of kevin Turvey I've ever heard and delivers his one-liners in a dry, dead-pan wit that has perhaps been too often mistaken for arrogance. For instance, who is the ideal Sisters Of Mercy fan?
"A person with alarmingly good taste, a great deal of money and a sense of humour!" Curiously enough, slting neatly into the category are Flemish-Belgians: "Not only are they one of the finest audiences we've come across but of all the mammoth press-sessions we've ever done in any coutnry the ones we did in the Flemish half of Belgium were the most perceptive and astute; they've just got an awful lot of suss."
But the French half of Belgium?
"Ahh, the french half of Belgium can go f**k itself!" And coming hard on the heels of the French speaking populace come the Welsh speaking. Somehow the Sisters Of Mercy just don't seem to be able to hit it off with the Celts of this world.
"No, I mean, to be fair to the Welsh," begins Eldritch, stops, considering, and starts anew: "No, lets not be fair to the Welsh at all! You f**king spat at us, you bastards! We've only ever played in Wales once and you spat at us! Give me one good reason why we should ever play in your God-forsaken country again! Especially, bearing in mind taht the only other time I, personally, have been to Wales before that I cut my head open on a roundabout!"
"So the only time before we played in Cardiff," Eldritch wags an accusatory finger at the tape-recorder, "where you spat at us, you, yes, my day ended in a Welsh hospital! I was five!"
"We've spent a great deal of our professional lives thinking; Is is possibel to get a decent gig in Wales? And the first time we do 'em a favour by actually showing up...what do they do? They spit at us!"
Another group of people the Sisters are at pains to distance themselves from are other musicians of their generation: "We do no get on with Ian Astburys (the Cult) of this world, or the Andi Sex Gangs (Sex Gang Children), or the Alien Sex Fiends, or the Nick Caves (ex-Birthday Party) of this world; we do not get on with a good deal of people as it happens. But us and lemmy, we get on fine! Us and Noddy Holder, we get on fine! But the fact is we find the Cult imtensely embarrassing... Billy Duffy apart; Billy, every time I meet you I think you're a great bloke and it's never embarressed me to talk to you, OK? But Ian.. ouch!"
Tjos depracation of the Cult brings us nicely around to the subject of the Rollign Stones, since both bands would lay claim to the Stones' legacy. The Sisters have also produced a stunning cover of 'Gimme Shelter', the point to be made there being: "One - we are the new Rolling Stones, and two - just a minute, the Cult have said that too, what makes the Sisters' claim any more legitimate? "I'm wearing the hat!" Eldritch is taken aback by this intrusion on his train of thought. "And I've slept with a great deal of women!" Sorry and two? "And two, we wished to assert our position within the scheme of things. Throughout our career we've had to fight against the preception that most of the public has of us as being something that sprang out of post-punk. We regard ourselves as having sprung from pre-1970's rock music, as the inheritors of that traditon, and the only people with any chance of propagating it furthter."
The Sisters would quite happily ignore most of what happened in rock between 1970 and 1980, sav that the evolution of punk gave them the opportunity to get onto a stage in the first place. Covering 'Gimme Shelter' "was a way of saying we come from 1969, we are the Children of Altamont...we don't know who the f**k Alien Sex Fiend are and we don't wan to know!"
The Sisters' choice of cover material has never been less than fascinating, take Dolly Parton's 'Jolene' for instance: "That's a brilliant song. Dolly Parton writes very good songs. Also it's an abrogation of the responsibility of the frontman to get out there and say: Girls, suck my cock! 'Jolene' is a give-me-back-my-man song and I love those songs, all of them without exception. And I think it's very good someone who's supposed to be in the position of the macho frontman to get up at the front of a stage and say: Give me back my man!"
Also being strongly considered as a cover pssibility was anything from the Led Zeppelin back-catalogue. Despite their dismassal of all 70's rock the Sisters Of Mercy hold a special place in their hearts for Led Zeppelin.
"I think it's time we did a Zeppelin number just to show the public what's what!" enthuses Eldritch. "Wayne and I tend to raid the freebie cupboards at WEA more than anyone else - Wayne particularly is a whiz at it; he has a knack of walking out with hundreds of albums without anyone actually noticing that he's had his allowance! But Wayne took the whole of the Zeppelin back-catalogue out a month ago and neither of us since have been able to live without it!"
"They wrote great songs, which is my primary cirterion for what makes a great band, wore really silly clothes. And they were Gods, not only because of who they were and what they did, not because they could play something - apart from Jimmy Page - really fast, or because they did more drugs than anybody else...they were Gods because they were Led Seppelin!"
"They were awesome! if they'd cut all the guitar solos out of the records there wouldn't have been any question in the late '70s taht they were still awsome, and I think they'd still be seen as the rule for what makes a rock band. But for some of us they still count for a lot; we have other criteria as well, but we haven't forgotten them. It's about time someone got up and said something as crass as: Led Zep-ace!"
And how do the Sisters Of Mercy match up against them?
"We're a great deal thinner...and we're slightly younger.. we don't wear flared trousers, although our sleeves have been known to get very similar... our hair? Pretty much the same overall, I'd say; Craig's looking good these days and Wayne's certainly letting it all hang out...we don't have such a big backline but our crew is certainly groovier...and we have the same backing of Warner Com.! So we shall see!"
(At this point it should be noted that the Sisters declined to cover any Zeppelin material in their live set but did use 'Kashmir' as an intro tape.)
With the release of 'First And Last And Always' the Sisters Of Mercy are advancing into the treacherious territory of mainstream rock, although strictly on their own terms and in the own time. The fact that they have done so in the wake of such an awe-inspringly brilliant album leads me to suggest that the Sisters will be playing a major part in the shaping of rock music in the latter half of this decade.
This is no idle boast or fanciful claim; remember, Sisters do not doubt, and neither should you.
Who is he, this patron of Leeds swimming pools, this man-in-dark-glasses? (Don Watson?-Ed) Nay, 'tis Andrew Eldrtich, lead black with the ever-circling Sisters Of Mercy, a band who oised to be big in any colour. Paul Du Noyer poses as wasted journalist, Derek Ridgers hides behind the dark shutter.
Welcome to my ashtray.
Andrew Eldrtich beckons me inside his lair. No decayed godless Gothic edifice, this, just a homely if chaotic end-of-terrace in some pleasant suburb of Leeds, where redbrick back-to-backs march up little hills in prime single file. Even in daylight, though, his house's windowseyes are closed, the rooms in gloom.
On the bookshelf sits a black-and-yellow copy of Teach Yourself Public Releations (I forgot to ask if it was his), and the TV flickers soundlessly while the telephone keeps asking questions: Should the new record's label say this, or that? Details, details. And, will he come down to London to speak to Janice Long?
"No, no. Wayne and Craig can do it. I'd only be churlish. And it wouldn't do to be churlish, would it?"
Busy days for Andrew Eldritch, singer/manager/eminence noir of Yorkshire's notorious Sisters Of Mercy. A new single out, a first LP release, a national tour just days away. Two long years they were kings in UK indie-land, always perched atop the "alternative" chart with some slab or other of brooding malevolence. 'The Reptile House' or 'Body Electric' or 'Alice'.
Then they signed to a major. Having sold their souls to the Devil many years ago, they settled for a more convetional deal with WEA, hitching the conglomerate to the Sisters' own Merciful Release label, under which macabre logo their records continue to appear. They still do well (three 45s out so far under the new regime) but their profile has lowered somewhat, from major indie act to minors in the major league.
Now comes the big push. With the release of their album, 'First And Last And Always', many months in the making, the Sisters stand on the cusp - cultdom the side, real fame and serious amounts of money on this side.
Which way will they fall?
People react strongly, and strangely, with the Sisters in front of them.
Last year they played in a New York club, where I watched them with colleagues from the rocking London scene. on my left, the man called Morley from ZTT was yelling: "You haven't got a fucking clue! Bye bye you bastards!" Gavin Martin, from the NME, looked pensively at the stage. "Aw, fuck off!" he pronounced, at lenght.
I looked around for Billy Bragg and found him at my feet, crosslegged on the floor, swaying gracefully, hands held aloft with a peace sign on each - more, one suspected, in a spirit of satire than reverence.
Yet I like the buggers, myself. (Give it to me straight, doc - is it serious?) An exact definition of their appeal eludes me, but they do have something.
Live, the Sisters Of Mercy are a murky morass of one houndred insidious clichés, taken from the brink of that abyss which, if crossed, would trip them into worthless absudity. Yet there's a grace which saves them: a sense of irony, for sure, a certain sure-footed knowingness. That, and one hell of a throbbing wallop of pure rock power, wrapper around a set of some cruelly meticulous songs - from the obscurely humourous to the dark, hypnotically sinister.
You don't so much see them play, as glimpse them occasionally.
Through a suffocating fog of dry-ice effects, these four black-clad insect men emerge and recede, no more than silhouettes, all a-bristle with guitar necks. (The drummer's a machine, name of Doktor Avalanche.)
Eldritch, tight-lipped, with all the down-home folksy charm of a snake with a sulk on, lurks in the halflight, now rasping lowly, from a murmur to a moan. He ought to be screaming with that metallic racket his band are bashing out - but he isn't, and from this eerie dislocation, I think there emanates something of the Sisters' compelling command. They're pumping up to overload, while he's just audible and no more. Control is all.
Save the odd twitch of neurosis - or was that a smirk? - the music grinds on with majestic inevitability, the surface smooth whatever hysterical demons may be imprisoned inside.
We take a walk in Leeds. Outside the house there's a tall mill chimney, and photoist Derek Ridgers remarks that, by one theory, ifnamous murderers such as Christie have tended to live next to tall chimneys.
Eldritch shrugs, he doesn't notice the chimney much. Well he wouldn't, living with the curtains drawn. "Besides," he notes drily, "I don't do much gardening."
No. He doesn't look the gardening sort. Black, broad-brimmed and battered is the old felt hat on his head. ("I have been compared to the man on the Sandeman's Port bottle," he frowns.) Pale, pointed, Dickensian-pinched is the face that hides behind the shades beneath the hat. Undertaker-style, a black coat drapes cloakishly down from hsi bony shoulders to the - guess what colour? - back stalks he emplys as he employs as legs.
So we walk. Does a shadow pass across the street when Andrew Eldritch saunters abroad? Or perhaps - more chillingly - no shadow at all? Not that, either. Do Yorkshire mothers cross themselves, huddle their bairns inside the apron-folds until the apparition passes? They do not.
We queue up in a fish'n'chip shop, and if terror grips the lady's soul she conceals it splendidly.
"Salt'n'vinegar, luv? 'Ere, don't forget your change!"
In fact, Andrew Eldritch feels at home in Leeds.
"It's been very good to me, this town."
A Southerner by birth and accent, he's an RAF child who's lived all over. He moved up here eight years ago, to continue his college education in languages. Originally a drummer, he formed The Sisters Of Mercy out of shifting lineups he played with in Leeds' punk-era venue, the F-Club.
Leeds people, says Eldritch, don't even mind when he moves in next door to them. Other advantages: it's far from London and that's assisted the Sisters in their misson of steering clear of fashion's pernicious cycle. They've grown alone.
"Leeds has never been allowed to have that provincial identity that Liverpool or Glasgow have. It's been left to get on with being itself...also, it's the speed captial of the North."
We come to the house of Wayne Hussey. Fromerly with Dead Or Alive, Hussey's guitar and composing gifts have added much colour and variety to the Sisters' newer material. (Today he's away, talking to Janice Long, along with bass player Craig Adams.) The other guitarist, longstanding Sister Gary Marx, is present, and once inside we try a bit of interview business.
Do you look forward to tours, Andrew? You seem a bit detached as a performer.
"I enjoy teh atmosphere, I just go up there an try and sing the songs. We've played some landmark gigs in our time, but it's very hard to go onstage each time with the attitudie, this is gonna be the best, when you've go a pretty fair diea it won't be... I always feel I should be doing more, in terms of communicating beyond the first 20 rows."
He pauses. his conversation is big on pauses, actually, although is mind appears to be ticking over at some advanced velocity. He's also partial to the wry and cryptic quip, and mutterings of gnomic brevity. I've never heard him laugh, nor raise his voice in anger or anything else, though he'll signal his mroe humorous pronouncements witha short snicker. Gernally you can't see his eyes, but when he's in profile you might catch his glance from the side of the shades, quick as a lizard's blink, and a kind of twinkle belies the deadpan delivery.
Do you feed of an audience?
"They can make you feel really bad, to the point where you take it out on them...generally the gigs aren't violent. There's a lot of mayhem going on, but it's without malice. And if there's trouble we can sort it out. I quite look forward to that."
Indeed, he's not above pitching in with the best and worst of them.
"We know we shouldn't, and we don't try and cause it, but we learned after a while that if people are going to behave like that if people are going to behave like that then the only way to solve the problem is to take them out. And talk about it afterwards."
As to the new LP, he's satisfied it's climaxed the Sisters' patient, almost predestined rise from provincial obscurity to semi-eminence. prone to some bitterness that TV, radio and the NME have not shown more interest in the band in the past, he now rests content in the belief that his group have accomplished this much on their own terms.
On the record: "I think we've conveyed the sense of importance. it sounds like a very important records. Even if, when you listen to it, you're not quite sure why."
You do get described as making gloomy music, don't you?
"Yeah...but it's something you accept. Some people find our sort of noise inherently gloomy. maybe they associate it with social decay, i don't know... I think the title track is gloomy, but not the others. They may not be tremondously optimistic..."
"I find listening to most pop records incrediblydepressing. As long as our songs sound intense enough, importanat enough, then gloom goes out the window. Cos gloomy and doomy suggest an air of apathetic resignation, which I don't think we're prone to."
"Actually, anybody who sings in a baritone is asking for trouble. Unless you're an operatic baritone, it's not the sort of noise people associate with constructive thinking."
Nevertheless your imagery, your clothes, record-sleeves, show a distinct attachment to the colour black. Perhaps this would have something to do with it?
"I never heard anyone level that accusation at Jonny Cash, heh heh!"
Well he's bigger than you, for one thing. But why black?
"It's good for the complexion (smug chuckle)... Perhaps one day we'll have a policy that each member of the band wears one primary colour, so that you can be seen two miles away. I'll go on in all green."
"The thing is, we don't feel this tremendous desire to be seen."
That's true. Onstage you're virtually invisible.
"I'm sure it's more intresting than having four guys up there all permanently visible, all feeling some extraneious need to perform all the time - instead of just playing the songs, loud, which is all people really want. We just go out and play loud. It's much more fun."
It could be said you were manufacturing some mystique around yourselves.
"People say, 'Is that what you're trying to do?' We're just not particularly communicative. Except in arguments. That and chucking records at the public..."
"We no longer feel we've got anything to feel defensive about. People can take it or leave it. We won't actively go out to court the public... it's not so much arrogance as knowing what we have to do. We're not going to spend all our time worrying about our profile."
"Our plans? I don't think we've got anything oin our plans apart from writing, recording and playing gigs. We're not about to get carried away with some peripheral artistic activities. Music will do us. We don't want to go off sculpting, or learning to fly."
Long a legend in his own mind's eye. Andrew Eldritch must now negotiate his career and his band (whom he guides with the wary parental care of an inner city shepherd) though some crucial months. Already, the fanzine boys have tuned on him, as we all do when our personal pets go public.
Which way will he fall?
A few months back, making this LP, he fell on his face: rushed to hospital, heart in danger, pop star on death's doorstep. Overwork was the main problem, not the only one.
"I've had to learn to take things easier."
He' had to learn to take some other things less frequently, as well.
Meanwhile, he is sloshing up a glass of gin and Coke. "I'm becoming dangerously addicted to this stuff."
Of course, there's always America. He loves American music. To begin with it was Detroit in particular, whether Motown of the MC5.
"Whatever it was, it was always very what it was. And I like the fact that Detroit's got 40 square miles of urban wasteland. I think that's some kind of achievement."
Nowadays he likes Foreigner. (It's true, as he says the stuff make a lot more sense when you're over there, in the middle of it all).
The Sistrs have never been reticent about their influences - yet these are broader than the particular selection they're sometimes pilloried for. If their cover versions include The Stoges' '1969', they also take in Dolly Parton's 'Jolene'. If they do the Stones' 'Gimme Shelter', they also do Hot Chocolate's 'Emma' (a song which 'inspired' New order's 'Thieves Likes Us', by the way).
He says he's obtained five autographs in his life.
"The first was Tony Blackburn, when I was about nine or ten. And the other four are The Ramones."
Tonight he's off uptown to see another hero, Jake Thackeray. His great ambition is to track down a certain new Seekers' record, because he likes the tune.
His other ambitions include developing massive telekinetic powers. With these, his first act will be to destroy Liverpool, a town he loathes with peculiar vehemence, and the whole of France, which he also detests - although, ever the humitarian, he intends to levitate all the young French women to safety beforehand.
Does the stardom bit appeal, at all?
"Yes. It's the nex logical step. We've been investigating what it is to be a rock band. We haven't yet investigated what it is to be incredibly rich. And really prima donna-like. It might be a lot of fun. I think we deserve a crack at it... The most unlikely people end up being stars. There's got to be a good way of doing it."
What might that be?
"Being a star depends on whether you've set out to behave like one from Day One. And I think we've kept our hands in sufficiently to be quite good at it."
What does it involve?
"It's brazen self-confidence, in a way that doesn't upset the people you like - and annoys the fuck out of people you hate."
Steve Sutherland, literay critic, heads for Leeds to swap badinage with Andy 'Batman' Eldritch of the Sisters Of Mercy. Eldritch reveals very little about his group's new LP, but we learn that he intends to eat lemons on tour. Photos? Tom Sheehan, of course.
The self-styled Mr Eldritch drags on his fag and takes another of those long, practised, meditative pauses. I've just asked him how come he wasn't asked to sin gon the Band Aid single. Almost a minute elapses.
He exhales audibly: "That's a tough one, isn't it?"
This self-same Mr Eldritch, stubblechinned and bone-dry behind shades in a Leeds living room, is explaining why the obsessively enigmatic Sisters Of Mercy's debut album, "First And Last And Always", has taken so damn long to crawl into the light of day. He confirms the rumours of illness, revelling in revealing just what he want and no more. Just like his songs.
"I've got the scars to prove it. There are various views on what happened to me but, naturally, mine's the only one that counts. I think I just started working too hard and, at the end of last summer, my body said 'No thank you. This has gone far enough. It'll end in tears'. So I've calmed down a bit although... I enjoy it so much, being strung out for a very long time...I'm told you can't do it for that long."
That is, ofcourse, the only possible reaction for a man associated with the doomier side of existence.
"Doomy is a housewive's fowrd for realistic. If you happen to be there, you've gotta write from there. It's a dangerous world."
Now this Mr Eldritch is a man of starchy intelligence, the sort of fellow you can say words like "art" to and not feel like a dickhead. And so it was that I asked him whether his art informed hsi life or vice versa. And, naturally enough, this was exactly the sort of question he loves.
"After so much practice, it's very difficult not to live it so yeah, the lifestyle infroms the art. I keep putting myself in this godawful position quite deliberately, knowing what it will involve and still not really wishing to get out of it. It's a treadmill, it's a vicious spiral. It's possible to get out of it but I've chosen not to."
"The next question, of course, is 'Will there come a point where you can't? And then what will you do about it?' And the answer is 'I don't know'. I shall probably just keel over."
I tell this Mr Eldritcy that I think he's a dam good actor creating himself the classic role of romantic victim. He's becoming, in short, his own hero. He rather likes this notion too.
"I've spent so long doing this that I can't distance the two. You may well be right but this is a business of self-fulfilling prophecies and once you become Eldritch with a capital E, that's it, doomed."
Oh, and he enjoys it!
"Well, it's more intresting than what I was before. I was so shot when I wrote the lyrics to the album that there's no distancing of persona at all. it's not a problem living up to it, it's just a problem to live, period. The way I seem to end up living these days, I'm very aware of how fast the blood's going around and how high the sugar level is because I've been forced to be aware of it. I don't have a problem realising how alive I am if that's what you're inferring, it's a concern."
I now decide it's time Mr Eldritch and I stopped beating around the bush and started talking serious drugs so I inform him that, in my humble opinion, the second side of "First And Last And Always" is about being wasted, finding it hard to cope and relishing every agonised second.
He smirks: "It would be dishonest to write anything more homely. I don't think the band's particular pleaseures are destructive. It's a horses for courses. At our age, you generally know what's good for you and what isn't and, most of the time, you stick to what's good for you. None of the songs on the album are about being a victim of one's own pleasures except in the case of getting emotinally involved with people who aren't very good for you."
So what sort of irresponsible hero is thisman who desses all in black and stalks the streets of Leeds 4 in a battered cowboy hat?
"The sort of irresponsible hero who make it very clear that certian things are irresponsible. There's no actualy propagaton of irresonsibility on the records and that's why you need detachment, irony with a captial I - always one of my major obsessions. You have to be clinical about certain aspects of portraying any persona, even if it's your genuine self.
"You have to realise it's persona, you have to laugh at it because you have to see it for what it might do to the nation's youth and, God forbid, the nation's housewives. We'd like all the nation's housewives to hear 'Amphetamine Logic'."
This Mr Eldritch, as you'll have doubtless surmised, is one wry customer, a bit of a master when it comes to a wind-up and I, too, have had my moments so we joust a bit and I ask him what he'd say to somebody who considered his antics pathetic because some people really are ill and can't helpt it while his maladies are generally selfinduced?
We'd probably tell them to fuck off." he rasps and I take it to be laughter. "Telling people to fuck off, that sense of glorious vindication, is a primary, motivating factor, I think."
Rock'n'roll outlaws, eh?
"Aren't we just! No! We have appetites! We have urges! We're human! We have needs! It's about time we were pandered to."
Such as the 12 fresh lemons I have to have every night on the next tour."
This is exactly the stuff of which legends are made and, of course, Mr Eldritch forever keeps an eye on legend. But I wonder, can someone so cryptic with such an advanced, nay chronic, sense of irony ever atttain that sought-after status?
"No, nevause I always let people know just that bit too much. It disturbs them."
So who wants to be a rock'n'roll rebel anyway?
Well, it's not an invalid reaction to the modern world as long as it doesn't actully do anything destructive to other people's lives, and I don't think it does the way we do it so we're perfectly happy to be ptulant and we defend our right to be so."
But doesn not this Mr Eldritch feel that, on occassion, his advanced sense of mischeif may sail over the heads of his tribe?
Yeah. It wouldn't be worth doing if it was that understandbale or if it was that accessible and if it was that much what people wanted."
Mr Eldritch's favorite word is "oblique" and yet his followers tne to be Zig Zaggers, the new Goths, the ersatz Siouxsies. Strange. Whereas most of that Batcave lot have watched "The Evil Dead" on video and gone stright for the hatchets. Mr Eldritch's fantasy is much more subversive. He likes to flirt with cliches much in the manner that Richard Butler once did. He likes twisting his sources. Goddam, he even acknowledges his sources! The Sisters once recorded "Gimme Shelter".
"Everybody's doing exactly the same thing to a greater or lesser degree. We're just rather shameless about it. Poeple don't like to be reminded of it. They'd much rather we went out there like messiahs from another planet who'd never heard of Chuck Berry or..." and he whispers this bit..."Led Zeppelin.
And here we encounter the myth of novelty, the pop obsession that if there's nothing actually new, the industry's need to turn over dictates you pretend it is the keep the wheels rolling. Mr Eldritch delights in sticking his heroes in the spokes. When he listens to today he hears only yesterday.
"We played with Sex Gang Children once and, at the beginning of their set, they announced that this wasn't rock'n'roll and 20 minutes later there was dry ice. But that's what the people want to hear and when we went on and said exactly the opposite, we had to give'em a lot more to win 'em over because it does get their teeth on edge to be reminded of it. I mean, to us, it's a joy to reminded because ti's something to bugger about with and you can communicate a lot more if you remould and remodel."
If it's only rock'n'roll, is this Mr Eldritch really happy being a Sister?
"Yeah, smug might be a better word. We're in a good position to achive what we want with regards to the mainstream. We can step in and out of it as required and the band decide what's required, not someone else."
Is there anyone else, I ask, who Mr Eldritch reckons is doing anything worthwhile?
He pauses that pause: "Roy Kinnear, always."
My, he is a smug bastard isn't he?
"Well, yeah. Why Not?
Ten things you didn't want to know about Mr Eldritch
1. His favorite film is "The Blues Brothers"
2. He supports Manchester United.
3. He is currently courting Josie from Vicious Pink.
4. He owns a spiffing collection of "Likely Lads" video.
5. He idolises Jake Thackeray.
6. He is currently launching a campaign to get Reg Varney as the next Dr Who, and failing that, Eleanor Bron.
7. He studied French and German at St Johns, Oxford and then Chinese at Leeds University.
8. His black coat/cloak was given him by The Gun Club.
9. He owns the 12-onch of "Careless Whisper" although he doesn't own a record player. "It's important to have the artefact if the record's that good."
10. There is a picture of Jimmy White above his fireplace.
Living Room Number One and some easy clues: one pair of teardrop shades, a battered black hat that wouldn't feel lonely in a spaghetti western, Sharp-toed boots to match, and a mug with a big 'A' on it. Yes! lt's Alex Higgins' house! No, sorry, Andrew Elaritch. Honest.
First job of the day once the man comes down to claim these very necessary profis is to check the tour T-shirts that have arrived in the post.
"I really like the idea of a whole tour running around with this [missing!] chests," he says, holding up the one that says 'Tune In, Turn On. Burn Out'. "Timothy Leary, eat your heart out!"
But some poor sod in T-shirt land has been foolish mough to mess with The Sifters' precice instructions.
"Excuse me a minute." says Andrew genially as he picks up the phone, "I've just got to shout at somebody. "
Andrew Eldritch shouts very quietly.
"...Look, I really don't think our people are interested in a range of leisure products... I like the enigmatic quality of words with no logo... as long as they're all black ... and no vests! ... because basically I'd look crap in a vest ... "
Living Room Number Two - no clues. The Sisters Of Mercy are all assembled to pour out their hearts on the subject of their LP 'First And Last And Always'. I know - people make albums every day, but the length of time between The Sisters' rather messy birth and their debut into this well-trodden adult territory makes this something of an Event.
And, outwardly at least, they've changed. They think this LP will possibly lose them quite a bit of their old following, and they're not exactly worried about that, perhaps concerned isn't too strong a word.
Andrew: "A lot of people didn't realise that once we'd found the ability to do it, we'd be quite happy to make records where you could hear all the instruments and all the words and it would sound OK on the radio. A lot of people get pissed off when you make records like that - they figure you've changed somehow. "
Wayne: "I think my coming into the band has institied high level of awareness of song arrangements and things like that. Embellishments and textures, rather than having one guitar line thafs put through a fuzz box. They were great songs, but they were never fully realised."
Did you know much about recording when you started?
Andrew: "We knew where the studio was! The first time me and the Captain went into a Studio to make a record - a whole record - we had with us one guitar and one three watt practise amp. And we made a record."
And what did it sound like?
Gary: "F***in' horrible. "
Andrew: "I think everything we do falls within our original parameters - whether they were obvious to the outside world or not, I don't know."
What were your original parameters?
"To do what the hell we liked. "
When you started, did you want to be pop stars?
Gary: "Yea-aah. But we're not yet."
Andrew: "We're working on it. We get all the good bits of it now. We're just waiting for the petro-dotlars. I think we'll make good pop stars. "
When you were ill last year, what was wrong with you?
Is that all?
"What do you mean - is that all? It can kill you. It does things to your heart. "
Are those pills for your heart?
"Indirectiy - they're tranquillisers."
You don't seem particularly hyper.
"There isn't a detail of life or anybody else's life that I can 't get severely worked up about, given the slightest opportunity. The doctor said 'how do you relax?' and I said I don't. He said, 'Well, wouldn't you like to be able to relax?' and I said no. And he said - 'take these'."
Do you think it's necessary to be dead to be truly great?
"I have to say yes, just to hedge my bets."
What about death as a rock'n'roll institution?
"Greatly over indulged in. Also, most of them don't seem to do it with a great deal of style. There was this French poet catied Gerard de Nerval who hung himself in a Paris street - from the underneath of a street drain, with a pink ribbon. I mean, that's fair enough. But choking on your own vomit or turning blue in other people's bathrooms doesn't seem like a good idea."
Wayne: "It's difficult to comprehend sometimes. Dying. Being dead."
Andrew: "But you lived in Liverpool for how long?"
BASICALLY, ANDREW, how long do you think - you can get away with pretending to be an arrogant bastard and writing such sensitive lyrics?
"Pretending?! For as long as I am an arrogant bastard who writes sensitive lyrics. It comes from the heart. The public person is the private person. It's all the same - with this album more than anything else. Embarrassingly so."
Are you embarrassed by what you write?
"I'm when I think I've said something which is a bit too blatant."
You said before that 'Some Kind of Stranger' was a celebration of casual sex. How does it feel at a gig, looking out at all those girls and thinking - I could have any one ot them?
"Most of the time ifs fairly distasteful. Everybody goes through phases - and I've just entered a phase, boys, where casual sex is the last thing on my mind."
Wayne: "As far as I'm concerned - "
Andrew: "That's right, Wayne. Lower the tone again."
Wayne: "There's a very wise head on these shoulders, you know. It's a case of one extreme to the other. You have to go to both extremes to find your middle."
Andrew: "The thing is, with a band like us, people figure they know us inside out already. All the basic emotions and stuff are very public. And so casual sex isn't really that casual. It just bypasses all that - the 'shall I take you to the pictures for five weeks before we start feeling up each other's jumpers'."
"With 'Some Kind Of Stranger', the visual picture was very hot and humid. Sort of one door closes, another door opens. But the way it turned out - unfortunately, I've got the sort of voice that sounds desperate, and the higher it gets, the more desperate it sounds. It just sounds like a dirge to me."
Why do you wear sunglasses indoors?
Wayne: "I'm shortsighted."
Andrew: "I like to let in as little light as possible. I feel very uncomfortable in bright light."
What about the hat?
"I've been wearing it for weeks. It just feels right. There was a time when I used to wear loads and loads of bangles and I didn't feel right getting out of bed without putting them on. It's sort of like what prepares you for the day. If you were Batman, the first thing you'd do would be to put on your utility belt."
"It's not a pose. One of the reasons we're so happy living in Leeds is that we don't have to deal with fashion traps - musically, or clothes, or the way we behave. We can do what the f*** we like. And we do."
Are you the kings in this town?
Wayne. "People are very indulgent towards us, I think. They buy us drinks and they accept that we might throw up at The Warehouse or Phono. It's just - oh yeah, The Sisters are at home."
Andrew: "If the flags are flyin, then anything goes for those four people."
The confusion surrounding the two offshoot band from the Sisters Of Mercy both calling themselves the Sisterhood had still not been resolved at press time, although it looks as if Wayne Hussey and Craig Adams' outfit will have an uphill struggle to hang on to the name after Andrew Eldritch's Sisterhood project toppen the indie charts with their 'Giving Ground' single on Merciful Release.
The fact that Eldritch registered the name the Sisterhood late last year before the single was released places further obstacle in the path of Hussey and Adam's bid to keep the name.
Nevertheless, Hussey and Adams are perserving with plans to play three British gigs - at Camden Electric Ballroom February 27, Leeds University March 1 and Birmingham Powerhouse 2 - as The Sisterhood, although posters for the gigs will include a disclaimer dissociating the group from Andrew Eldritch's Sisterhood.
Hussey and Adams formed their band soon after leaving The Sisters of Mercy last September and recruited ex-Artery guitarist Simon Hinckler and ex-Red Lorry Yellow Yellow Lorry drummer Mick Brown. They toured Europe last month supporting The Cult but haven't yet signed a deal.
They accused Eldritch of trying to sabotage his former group members but Eldritch syas that the original Sisterhood was a semi-official fan club for The Sisters Of Mercy and their record company Merciful Release.
Eldritch add that The Sisterhood is now established "as the organ through which friends and affiliates of Merciful Release can co-operate on projects independently of their individual careers".
Thus The Sisterhood single features "the musical bile of Andrew Eldritch and introduces the colossal vocal talents of James Ray And The Perfromance".
A Merciful Release spokesperson told Sounds:"it saddens us that former associates, having left the Sisters Of Mercy and its label professedly in order to pursue a new and different musical direction, should feel compelled to seek refuge behind the very identity for which they are no longer prepared to accept responsibility and from which they claim to have distanced themselves."
"Our respect for what ex-group members are capable of achieving in their own right in the future demands taht we act to stop this pitiful masquerade."
Andrew Eldrtich is currently at number one in the indie charts with his band The Sisterhood while Craig Adams and Wayne Hussey have just finished a European tour with their band...The Sisterhood. Confused? Yes, so were we so we assigned a specail investigative tam of two reports and two photographers to the case. Mr Spencer and Martyn Strickland get behind the Eldritch beard. Niel Perry and Greg Freeman go French with Adams and Hussey.
The Adams, Hussey Story
Big things, little things. Steel-cold sky, under which torrents of maniacally-driven automobiles flow like molten lava, psat the ultra-flash shops and the shievering hookers.
Paris in the winter, tonight playing hos to The Cult-Sisterhood mystery trip. Tickets ready, please.
Cut to The Eldorado, like a scruffy, sclaed down Lyceum. Wayne Hussey walks up to his mike and whispers, "Jesus loves the Sisters", and a thousand or so young Parisiennes get very excited.
You can see it in their eyes: we love you too.
This is the sixth gig The Sisterhood have played, ever.
During the fag-end of last year the magnificient machine that was The Sisters Of mercy ground to a halt amid recriminations, rumours and bitching. The Sisters' vocalist Andrew Eldritch claims, among other things, the right to the name "The Sisterhood", and brought out a single under that name recently.
With the rise of this Sisterhood - namely Wayne Hussey and Craig Adams from The Sisters, Mick Brown from Red Lorry Yellow Lorry and Simon Hinkler from Artery - the temporary madness that always occurs after the death of soemthing much-loved has only just started.
As The Cult hurtle in their set, Craig, Wayne and I return to their dressing room in the depths of the building; Simon and Mick are nowhere to be seen. craig is, mischevious and quite, Wayne elfin-like and eager to talk. The spectre of Andrew Eldritch hangs over us. Well, what about...
"The Sisters' split needs to be documented once and for all," says Wayne, with the air of one about to embark on the telling of a children's story. "As far as Craig and I were concerened, we'd resigned ourselves...we'd not been enjoying it for a while, but we'd resigned ourselves to sticking it out, and maybe it would've got better. But in fact it was getting worse. I went to Hamburg for a month with Andrew to try and write songs for the second Sisters album, and we came back with all my ideas rejected and Andrew's very skeletal."
"We got to doing the second album and Andrew said, I'm not singing any of your songs. That's what it boils down to. Craig walked out of rehearsal and a day later I did. He was listening to things like Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks, Foreigner, and there was us listening to Motorhead or whatever. And it showed."
But did The Sisters achieve what they set out to?
Wayne: "That was part of the problem, we'd done it, we'd done what we wanted to achieve. In doing that we'd lost the original essence of it...we'd lost the joke of it. Because that's what it was originally meant to be. A joke."
"A joke, yeah."
But I thought that...
"...It was a culmination of all the f***ing rock and roll clichés." Wayne allows himself a grin. I think he's enjoying my bemusement.
But ultimately it came over as original.
"That was the problem. We started taking ourselves too seriously, thinking we were more important than we were. In terms of rock and roll history we thought we were important than we were. I think Craig would vouch for that." (He does.)
But the Sisters were a great rock and roll band.
"They were a great rock and roll band, there's no doubt about that. But I believe that was down to our acknowledgement of our heritage more then anything else."
Was all of it completely contrived?
"It was, it was!"
That cold an clinical?
"The Sisters Of Mercy were a conglomerate of everything that's gone before," continues Wayne. "I defy anyone to say they're totally original. It was definitely contrived. You saw me on stage tonight, playing with the audience. It has to be contrived."
So is the very action of standing on stage and playing contrived?
"Yes, it is. Because you have all these visions of people who have gone before you."
So where does Wayne Hussey come into this? How much of it is you?
"Predominantly, it's you. But it's your interpretation of everything else. Someone once said to me that the holes in my jeans were well placed. Well contrived holes! Ha!"
Is there room in The Sisterhood for ideas that would never have occurred to you before?
"Well, we only got Simon three weeks before this tour started. But our songs are good in the first place. We're going to play more than The Sisters ever did. If we wrote a song it would take us three f***ing days because we had to program the drum machine. This is a new band, we'll never cover our old stuff, that would be a mistake. We've got more songs. I'm a songs man."
So what is in a name?
Wayne: "Andrew wanted to start making songs as himself, and kill The Sisters. By doing that he wouldn't've come out on top, because as far as most ot the people were concerned The Sisters were Andrew Eldritch. Craig and I are proving that it wasn't."
"The Sisterhood was the name of a group of friends who followed us about. I think it's a wonderful name, not because of the old associations, but because of the imagery you can actually use with it."
"The thing about Eldritch..."Wayne pauses, and looks around the room, "...is, he's dried up. I personally think he's been one of the best rock lyricists over the last few years, but now he's dried up. I still respect him. Whatever he does, I reserve judgement."
'Sisters Of Mercy - Trans-Europe Excess' says the roadie's seatshirt. Have you read Hammer Of The Gods?
"It's our tour bible. Instead of a tour itinerary we all got a copy of that book. I asked Jimmy Page to produce our next record."
And? What did he say?
The Sisterhood are graceful, careful in their songs. The face of The Sisterhood is warmer then its mother's ever was. Wayne is thinking again.
"The potential of this group is enormous. The songs are more melodic, more accessible in a broader sense. It's about the very fact that you're here. If this where The sisters you wouldn't be here!"
"Becaue it was part of the psychology of The Sisters Of Mercy. You'd have made the effort, not us."
So why am I here now?
"Because you have to play the game. There are ways of playing the game and keeping your dignity. Not playing the game means coping out. The common accusation of selling out is bullshit. You first sold out when you formed a group! You're in a group and you want to sell records."
"Being in a group is 75 per cent being aware of the business, and that's one thing I learnt from The Sisters. No disrespect to you, but the only reason I'm talking to you is because we need a feature in Sounds, we need that exposure at this time.
I hadn't assumed I was here for any other reason.
"It would be different if you were a mate but you're not, I don't know you. Do you want to share a hooker?"
No, it's OK. Are you a star?
"I've got it in me, but that's not the point. It's unfortunate in a way that I've got a music background already."
It's also very useful.
"It's very useful. But it's a hindrance as well, people shouting for 'Temple Of Love' or whatever. But that won't last long. one thing that I don't want to happen again is one person becoming the centre of attention, because this is much more of a group in that respect."
But you've done all the talking this evening...
"Of course, but that's delegation of responsibility. It's important that this comes over as a group. It will take time, as always. But we are strong in our resolve to do it."
The morning after, and photographer Greg and I are sitting in the hotel foyer at an optimistic eight for The Sisterhood's photo shoot. Nothing stirs, except for Ian Astbury who stumbles over to us looking as rough as I feel.
"Do you know, they confiscated 17 knives and two loades pistols at the gig last night! God, think what got it..." He is happy. He loves touring with The Sisterhood.
"Wayne? A, salt of the earth that boy, salt of the earth."
The photos are taken, and it's off to the airport for us and a long haul on the coach to Lyons for the bands. They pull faces at us from the back window. Games, jokes rule... Wayne's personal philosophy seems razor sharp and muddled all at once, and left me not a little confused, but no matter.
None of it's particularly important, because I believe The Sisterhood are going to be one hell of an electrifying rock experience, because their music touched me. Because...
The Eldritch story
Telephone call. Hot news! Scandal growing deeper by the minute. The dark man speaks to a London contact, pauses, then returns to the breakfast table with a fetching grin on his face.
This is uncharacteristic. All those present are tickled pink.
I ask him, Why are you smiling?
"Because I'm happy," replies the mouth with the beard, the eyes with the glasses and the face with a hat that stays on in the wind, and I almost choke on my Frosties.
Andrew Eldritch is happy, the rest of us are just confused.
Let's get this straight...
Following the demise of The Sisters Of Mercy last June, the singer has been spending time in Germany and the USSA, absorbing his surroundings and even taking a drive in the original Monkeemobile as part of an Elektra video shoot.
Upon his return to Leeds, Andy set about putting into action three new projects; the first of these being the formation of a new Eldritch band (as yet unamed) with Patricia Morrison, previously of The Gun Club, featuring on bass guitar, plus the ever faithful Doktor Avalanche (ie a larget metal box) on drums.
An album will eventually come out on Andrew's Merciful Release label, through WEA, to whom all three former Sisters remain contracted.
Project number two has already emerged in the form of The Sisterhood (scandalous!), whose records are issued independetly by Merciful Release.
The group comprise "An everchanging collection of people, co-ordinated and backed by Andrew Eldritch". They have a single available, called 'Giving Ground' (moody, but not crushingly so) on which newcomer Lucas Fox deals with percussion alongside one James Ray - source of all vocals on the release, contrary to popular opinion.
Eldritch produced the Sisterhood record, and also handled bass, guitar, strings and keyboards. Again, Doktor Avalanche provides the drums.
There's currently a great deal of confusion regarding this project, and understandably so. To worsen matters, a new 12-inch EP called 'This Corrosion', will soon be in shops, featuring the same line-up but with the addition of a mysterious and so far undisclosed American vocalist.
Andrew appears saddened at finding his old chums, Craig Adams and Wayne Hussey (both ex Sisters Of Mercy) claiming rights to the Sisterhood tag. He wishes them every success, but not while they persis in using this particular name.
"Legal action is early anticipated against imposters," Eldritch whispers, licking his lips.
Third Project: Andy has just announced his first signings to Merciful Release, namely James Ray And The Performance, a Newcastle band whose debut single will surface early in March.
Meanwhiel, the thin man studies me from across the table. He looks marginally healthier than on previous sightings, perhaps as a result of his having made a conscious decision to get in shape following words of warning from various doctors.
Despite this, ultra high-tar cigarettes - upon which he sucks from dawn 'til dusk - remain his primary source of nourishment.
"They don't appear to have done me too much harm, as yet," says Andrew, lighting another fag. "I've seen what the insides of my lungs look like, and they're not actually too bad, although I wouldn't be at all surprised to keel over in a year's time from cancer. I certainly wouldn't whine about it."
Dosen't the possibility bug you?
"It's not something I worry about, but it would be sort of untimely."
I ask him if his sense of humour is runnign rampant.
"My sense of irony is, certainly," he answers, before pressing his knuckles into place and re-creating perfectly the sound of cracking walnuts, which impresses me no end.
Persumably you're no longer fearful of these machines, I ask, inidcating the nerby cassette recorder.
"I'm used to thinking very hard before I open my mouth."
Have they ever worried you?
"No, because I never regret anything I say, although I usually think it could be paraphrased better by the person who's tackling it at the other end, that it could be illustrated better, or even that a different typeface could be used."
Do you have fun reading your quotes?
Do they make you smile?
"Yeah, yeah. What I find remarkable is that I often repeat what I've said five years previously with exactly the same words. I'm not sure whether this consistency is the result of an admirable single-mindedness, but I'm increasingly aware that I haven't changed very much at all."
I have noticed that you have favorite words, one of these being oblivion...
"Yeah, it's a good word, oblivion."
Another being Napalm...
"That's an escellent one as well."
Do you like words in general?
"Yeah, I was brought up iwth a great many of them."
At the time of their disintergration, The Sisters Of Mercy were within inches of surging though the great Gallup barrier which stands slap band between the mainstream and the obscure.
Their album, 'First And Last An Always' went Top 20. Had the last few singles crept just a little higher, they would've made the national Top 40, which would have given the group's then fast growing status the extra boost it needed.
"We came close," Andrew recalls. "Oour failure to crack it wasn't anything to do with us. I think the band did everything required, although we weren't prepared to package ourselves in the way certain other acts were."
"I'm proud to this day that there were people sufficiently worried by The Sisters Of Mercy not to let them do thing which the Alarms, Smiths and Cults of this world have been allowed to do. I'm proud taht we made music which will stand up alongside anyone else's on the radio, but not be allowed on the radio."
"The best gig was at The Lyceum, supporting The Gun Club," Andy continues.
"Everything seemed to click. We had some good moments on the road, but we were always hard pressed to give anybody tour anecdotes."
"The tabloids asked us once for a few, but none of ours were remotely interesting and involved large amounts of vomit, so we said, Look, do you want the vomit anecdotes or not? They said no, whcih left us with very little else."
Why so much vomit?
"None of it mine, I hasten to add, but everyone else's from time to time, although to be fair to him Wayne has an amazin capacity for consumption of alcohol, it's quite astounding."
Do the achievements of The Sisters Of Mercy satisfy you?
"Yeah, but that's not to say it couldn't have gone further. I don't regret anything that happened."
Andrew has suffered certain withdrawal symptoms...
"We spent so much time on the road that the dry-ice actually ebcame a natural environment," he grins, "and I know this sounds like really stupid, but I find it hard to walk down the street in daylight without having brusts of smoke going off around me. It feels weird, like I'm undressed."
Are you ever lacking in self confidence?
"Not inasmuch as I know i can always muster it at the drop of a hat. Its a resource everyone has, and I don't regard myself as having more of it than anybody else, I've just trained myself to call on it more reliably, and quicker."
"I've got a reasonably good idea of what I want to do and how I want to do it, and I really no loger seem to end up in situations wehre I'm at a loss."
Have you ever cracked a joke only to find noe one laughs?
"Frequently, and even when people don't laugh I laugh some more. And also, intrestingly, it wouldn't worry me even if I knew a joke wasn't funny; I would freely give myself the right to be as wrong as I choose, anytime."
You don't find people laugh just because you're who you are?
"No, because I generally say things with a reasonably straight face, and I don't require people to respond through my laughter - I hardly have what one would all an infectious laugh."
"I've stopped being defensive, I feel no need to be defensive about anything I do. I'll explain actions to people, I'll explain thoughts or ways of doing things, but never to win over or peruade, purely to inform."
The new band, whichever name it emerges under - looks like being very much Andrew Eldritch Plus Support.
Has Andy always felt destined to become a solo performer?
"No," he growls, and I still don't like the idea very much. That's not teh way it's going to be, because I do like working with other people."
You don't object to sharing the limelight?
"Of course not, it's actually very hard getting people to share the limelight, because as soon as they realise what's involved - it's the same old musician with power against responsibility equation, and we're all familiar with this - they want the power but not the responsibility that goes with it."
The voice of James Ray on 'Giving Ground' sounds remarkably like your own.
"Well, it could be suggested that on the first single, this has been a deliberate contrivance; it's certainly sung in a way that I can relate to."
Does this quitely spoken, courteous yet frightful young man ever worry he'll end his days without a friend in the world?
"I don't think that would turn out to be the case," he assures me, "but even if I did I wouldn't mind, because I know what I have to do, and I'm going to do it, and if no one else is along for the ride, that's OK."
Zooming in on the mouth, the beard, the glasses and the hat that stays on in the wind, I push my bowl to one side and think to myself, Andrew Eldritch is going to be a star.
Who are Sisters Of Mercy and why have they suddenly got a hit single? John Aixelwood embarks on a voyage of discovery to find the mysterious Andrew Eldrtich.
He looks like a spider. A great big black creepy spider.
Gaunt, ghostly white, tall and painfully thin, he also looks in dire need of a square meal. He's clad head to toe in black, shielded by shades from the cold light of day. A strange character. An intimidating presence. He approaches...and offers a handshake.
"Eldritch. Pleased to meet you."
In certain circles Andrew Eldritch is a minor legend. A guru of the goth brigade whose cult hero status increased after his band Sisters Of Mercy disappeared off the face of the earth and myths around him grew. He was dead! He was insane! He was working on the buses! In fact, non of it was true.. He's reformed Sisters Of Mercy with a new line-up and their comeback single 'This Corrosion' is rockerting up the charts at a devestating rate.
Just at the point the Sisters looked on the verge of major success, Eldritch split the group. Two of them, Wayne Hussey and craig Adams slunk away to form The Mission, while Eldritch...well, nobody quite konws what Eldritch did do. He disappeared completely for a couple of years before returning with his new-look Sisters - glamorous American Patricia Morrison and faithful drum machine Doktor Avalance - to make the impossibly good 'This Corrosion'.
So what was he doing for all that time when he should have started being rich and famous and instead The Mission were stealing his thunder. He reckons he "travelled about a bit." For two years??
"Appart from anything else, the amount of inner strenght needed to do the job and to keep control is colossal. After five years without a day off the time came to lie low for a while. Anyway '86 was such a bad year musically, though, ha ha, it was a great year for me perosonally. I had a wonderful time."
Ardent Sisters fans obviously hadn't forgotten their group, but 'This Corrosion' has given them a whole new audience. It's a relationship of mutual trust. Aaah!
"Mutual devotion. it's lacking in other groups and that's why we're raising our profile. our fans write or ring, but even that's reasonably unnecessary, they've never needed or been given much information, most bands do it and give out irrelevant information. If someone approaches us through the various channels with a serious question, they'll get a serious answer. Eventually! They understood why we didn't do anything for a while and why we're doing things now."
How will they take to Patricia?
"They'll accept Patricia because they're reasonably confident in the way I've done things. I return their trust and that's why the old Sisters ceased to work, I couldn't swear blind that there were people of the right calibre in the group."
Misson Of (No) Mercy
The purge of Hussey left deep scars. The Mission spent last year slagging their former master while he remained silent. Now it's Eldritch turn and while he can be scathing about The Mission (who supposedly took their name from a projected Sisters song) he still recalls the old Hussey day with some affection.
"The BBC would ring us up and ask 'what's new boys?'. We'd say 'do you want the stories with or without the vomit?'. They'd reply 'without' and we'd say 'ha, we haven't got any!'"
That was then...
"The fans are somewhat misled by what they've been offered while the Sisters have been away. They're being abused and the people who claim their affections aren't returning it very well. I personally kow the price The Mission have had to pay for success and I find it appalling. I've heard a couple of their singles, but they're not very big in Hamburg! They're not in The Times r the cricket news either. Wayne's lawyer writes me very funny letters!"
"The Sisters Of Mercy have no objections to playing Summertime Special."
Andrew Eldritch, leader of the Sisters Of Mercy, has had to stand by and watch his former Merciful sibling, Wayne Hussey, find fame and glory elsewhere. But he's a man without a mission no more. Henry Williams probes behind the sunglasses to find a new slim-line, no-punches-pulled Sisters.
He's gaunt. Lines are etched across his corpse-coloured face. His shoulder length hair hangs on a greasy biker's jacket, and he chainsmokes. He never takes his sunglasses off - even at night.
She resembles a cross between a model from Vogue and a Soho sex queen. From her head to her four inch stilettos, she's dressed in black. The only touch of color is blood red lipstick.
He's Andrew Eldritch, he went to public school, then Oxford University: he was planning to become a diplomat. She's Patricia Morrison: she was born in L.A. and once declined an offer to join Mötley Crüe.
As the Sisters Of Mercy, this startling looking duo are racing up the singles chart with 'This Corrosion' - a mixture of medieval choirs, heavy metal guitar and disco - which has finally gained them the success many people think they deserve. It's been a long time coming...
"Around 1980, I decided to forget about the Foreign Office," says Eldritch (Andrew seems inapproprite for this enigmatic character). "I left Oxford and moved to Leeds where I started to go round clubs trying to organise a band."
The Eldritch legend now becomes more familiar.
Originally, the Sisters Of Mercy featured Wayne Hussey as a "pretty average guitarist", as well as other members of the Mission. Eldritch sang and was the group's leader, but after releasing one album, 'First And Last And Always', the usual 'musical differences' began to take their toll.
Eldritch's booming, throaty vocals - sounding like Bowie slowed down - coupled with a drum machine called 'Doktor Avalanche' and a wall of late Sixties guitar, gained them a place in history. The band's taste for large floppy hats, long hair and excessive amounts of black clothing confused those looking for a convenient label.
In short, they were the first goth band. Groups such as Bauhaus may have been the first to explore the thrills and spills of vampirism, but the Sisters launched a thousand groups with dyed black hair, gloomy lyrics and pretentions to poetry.
Complicated legal hassles followed after the break-up in 1985, until Hussey launched the Mission, notched up a few hit singles and began to was a lot of dirty linen in public. Meanwhile, Eldritch disappeared.
It gradually emerged that he'd taken a flat in Hamburg's notorious red light distric, the Reperbahn, and was working on songs with Patricia Morrision, ex-bass player of American gloom 'n' doom merchants the Gun Club.
Why the move to Germany?
"Simple," snaps Eldritch. "I just hate London. I can be a very disorganised person - I don't even have a record player - and life's difficult here. There's bad drugs, bad people and bad food. Things are so expensive - Patricia has got a place, but we don't live together... Er, we're more like brother and sister. Now that the Sisters are making money, we might go into property - San Francisco would be a cooler place to buy than London."
"Unlike Nick Cave, I don't want to live in Berlin, because there's nothing there except dried up artists, talking about their latest projects which never get off the ground."
Though recorded in New York, 'This Corrosion' stems from the period in Hamburg, and now Eldritch is in the charts, he too can say a few words about a former partner.
"Wayne's just in love with being a pop singer," he pronounces in cultured tones. "He can't write songs, but I suppose someone's got to be on 'Top Of The Pops', I always had more serious aims, I make the kind of records I respect and I try to ignore the commercial side."
Lasting more than 10 minutes, 'This Corrosion' is a work of rare originality. Third-rate goth bands like Fields Of The Nephilim have already failed, due to their inabiltiy to see what the original Sisters were weakend by pomp rock tendencies, unlike this year's model who effortlessly combine different musical style.
"Right," says Eldritch with the ghost of a smile. "Even now a lot of people fail to realise taht we're almost ludicrous - deliberately so. We've been using Jim Steinman as producer. He made Meat Loaf over the top, and he's doing the same for us. He's a bit over the top himself, he's just gone out to do physical exercise."
"But I could be giving the wrong impression, this album is very intense. I love the idea of using acoustic guitars with a drum machine. There's a part of me that's deeply committed to doing serious work, something really original."
Patricia, who turns out to be the kind of girl you wouldn't be afraid to take home to meet your parents, agrees.
"I see so much music around," she complains in a lazy Californian accent, "but most of it is crap. There are bands like the Mary Chains who've broken though into the mainstream and they do nothing for me. They only copy the psyhedelic sound of 1966."
"We try to do something new, but we're always described as goths. C'mon, you tell us, what is a goth? Perhaps it's something to do with my Catholic upbringing."
She's surprised taht even the Banshees have been tainted by such associations.
"Well, I still really admire Siouxsie," she smiles.
"Me too," mutters Eldritch, running his fingers through his hair. And once started, he begins to reel of his musical influences, some predictable, some not.
"Burt Bacharach is someone I like - he can really sing."
When Eldritch sings, it often sounds like screaming from the bottom of a coal mine. Is this a deliberate attempt at imitation?
"No, it's not planned," he laughs, beginning to relax. "My voice is deep naturally. I can do all the falsetto stuff, but not the middle reaches. There's still no way that I'm going to take singing lessons."
"I like a lot of other singers. I started with the usual thing - seeing David Bowie and 'Starman' on 'Top Of The Pops'. That was brilliant, and I think the bascially kept music going through the Seventies. Richard Butler is also good. I can understand why the Psychedelic Furs went to America - Richard has been touring for years getting nowhere, so why not make some money?"
"Becuase 'This Corrosion' is a hit. I don't want to start touring again, I just don't like it. The last gig of the original Sisters was at the Royal Albert Hall, which isn't part of the normal touring circuit. And to tour we need musicians, and I'm being very careful about whom we use. It's very sensitive, because if it looks as if there's any sort of band the record company will start asking us to go on the road."
So in the flesh, Eldritch and Patricia Morrison turn out to be normal human beings (once they've drunk a few cups of coffee, that is). He has a charm and intelligence rare in the music business, she giggles like a schoolgirl.
"I don't even mind answering 'Smash Hits' type questions," Andrew laughs (we can forget about the Eldritch bit now).
Why do you wear so many pairs of filthy jeans at once?
"Huh, because there'd be problems if I wore only one of these at a time. You can see that there are certain strategic points missing."
Andrew and Patricia begin to chuckle to themselves.
I swear he even took of his shades for a split second.
The man who invented "gothic"!
(Except he denies it completely and who can blame him?)
Yes, pop ghouls, the bloke opposite is none other than Andrew Eldritch - creator of the world's most famed "gothic" group the Sisters of Mercy: a group whose legend was built on a swathe of dry-ice enswirled, dememnted pop performances, glooomful, hirling guitar spangles and most of all the deep 'n' angst-ridden garglings of Count Eldritch himself. The Sisters of Mercy "died" two years ago when their guitar persons Wayne Hussey and Craig Adams moodled off to invent The Mission and become quite rich and famous - declaring Count Eldritch to be a bit of a bimbo in the process, while he declared they were even bigger bimbos. Thus began a tormented tale of pop huffings about who had the "right" to call themselves the Sisters of Mercy, Count Eldritch naming himself The Sisterhood for a while and releasing a very strange LP called "The Wake", but eventually he won and now - creep upon creeps - the Sisters Of Mercy are back; with a new birling guitar spangle called
"This Corrosion" (featuring a twitterig choir) and with a new guitarist, Patricia, who used to be in anohter quite good gloom group called The Gun Club. She wears rubber perv-dresses, serveral zwilli-tons of make-up and hairspray and she's standing next to The Count looking very grim indeed. So's Bitz, come to think of it, because it's a been granted an "audience" with Count Eldritch who ha spinned an innocent Bitz to the wall with the most creepified, stony stare and is telling us that....
HE ISN'T A "GOTH" AT ALL
"I was never gothic! The Sisters' stuff was different - we always wrote tunes, had a song - because I have a great respect for songs - and I don't think any of these what you would call gothic bands ever did. They were just a noise with a few chains and a bit of black tat. I don't look glommy! I look like a groovy guy." (?)
HE DOESN'T LIKE PEOPLE
"I don't like people apart from individuals very much. Crowds make me nervous, bascially. One of the reasons is that outside of a song I really don't have a way of projecting myself so I feel incoherent a lot of the time. Particularly in conversation (strong stare). I loathe conversation. I'm totally incapable of small talk."
THEIR NEW SINGLE IS 11 MINUTES AND 8 SECONDS LONG?
"It was only 7½ minutes when we started it - a snip! And then I just couldn't stop. We've done a four minute version, too, btu we were seriously thinking about not doing one because I hate hacking about with things. People will buy the 11 minute version of course - hell! - they don't hae to play more than the first four minutes, do they? The choir is on because i'm not very good at the soprano hits, to be honest hih hih. And it's more ironic with a choir. More ludicrous and more stupid. It's a very cruel song. We've started again where we left off and there's the same knife stuck in but I've just twisted it a bit more."
HE STILL DOESN'T THINK WAYNE HUSSEY IS MUCH COP!
"I think very little about him, actually. He's really...not a part of my universe. I don't know anything about The Mission - I've got no information to have an opinion on. I've heard two singles and I looked at their album cover but I didn't play it. The other thing, of course, is that I've never had a record player in my life hih hih."
HIS BODY IS NOT AT ALL "PLEASANT"!
"I've got baby-oil on my face and in my hair because it makes me feel comfortable, more like me. When my body feels too pleasant it doesn't really feel like mine."
HIS RIGHT EYE BROW JIGGLES UP AND DOWN WHEN HE TALKS!
"I make my points much better with my eyes. If I had my specs on you'd be concentrating on what I was saying and I don't think I could make my point that way - I can say much more in the movement of an eyebrow (jiggles right eyebrow up and down(. And I always look people straight in the eye because I was never taught not to look directly at people when I'm talking to them - I also want to see what happens (strong stare). A lot of people find that sinister and frightening which is understandable."
HE THINKS THE END OF THE WORLD WILL BE "AMAZING"!
"I'm desperately serious. About everything. I have a very ntense sense of leisure, I was in Hamburg one time and I was woken at 10 o'clock one morning by the sound of sirens going off all over the city (stony stare). 'Ah', I thought, 'I know what that means: a nuclear attack'. It turned out thet Germans just like to practise nuclear alerts. And one I'd discovered this I thought one has to take one's leisure time very seriously - it's not gonig to last very long. It's all very well to think 'oh my God! The world's going to blow up - how awful!' but it's perfectly possible to think at teh same time 'the world's going to blow up - that's going to look amazing!' Thre's a no point in standing there being sad about it because that won't change anything. And I don't find that sinister or depressing, I find that a perfectly natural reaction to the modern world."
(Andrew Eldritch, the Godfather of Goth, is back to lead his children from the hippy wilderness and to prove the Sisters of Mercy are first and last and always. Steve Sutherland gets the message; Tom Sheehan takes the pictures.)
--Hello? "Thin White Duck here."
--Oh..uh..hi, Eldritch. "Come for drinks."
--I can't, I'm asleep. It's seven in the morning. "Is it?...Oh...Coffee then."
--Later. "Sure. Kensington. My hotel. At 10."
--Okay...Uh, you haven't been to sleep yet have you? "When...this week? This month?"
--After the gig. "Uh...no. Went to Dingwalls with Lemmy and these Hell's Angels and..."
--Save it, Eldritch. Save it. See you later.
AH, those were the days. Cryptic phonecalls at all hours. The Sisters of Mercy at the Royal Albert Hall, a heavy black nectar of irony that looked certain to choke goth on its own bittersweet excesses. "First And Last And Always", the album out on Merciful Release through Warners and nights sat up in hotels with Eldritch in his manky black leather cowboy hat doing wilful bodily harm to our fragile metabolisms and rattling on at mutual cross-purposes; me about life'n'love'n'that, Eldritch, of course, about fencing and self-defense and the iron bar he carried up the sleeve of his coat for dextrous use in the possibility of attack.
The world was spinning at Eldritch's pace and it was spinning very, very fast. There were great conspiracies and greater paranoia. He even offered to take someone out of my life by offering them a job on the Sisters' road crew for a tour of America - a job he could hardly refuse and which he might not survive. Some friend. Some hero.
And then... well, those postcards. One from Mexico which read, "ELVIS IS DEAD. I know because he told me. Sorry to break it so bluntly, but you had it coming, hippie. Feed your head - when you can find it. Von Eldritch X." There was a PS: "Peyote girls go round the outside, round the outside."
There were others from Hamburg, the last of which was written in Chinese, and I wasn't the only one who feared for the great man's sanity. Rumour had it a combination of devastated health, legal binds and sheer disappointment that his ex-henchman had made a go of The Mission had laid Eldritch near-fatally low. We presumed the world and Eldritch, to all extents and purposes, had parted company. Such miserable unbelievers!
Eldritch is in a photographic studio, glistening with baby-oil and draped all over Patricia, ex of The Gun Club and now his "right hand man". He's here to pose with cigarettes and prove The Sisters of Mercy are still a force to get wrecked with. He doesn't talk of resurrection, but of continuation and, as if to insist megalomania is alive and well and ready to pistol-whip pop, his new single is called "Corrosion", lasts 11 minutes, features a 40-piece choir multitracked 10 times and was produced by Meat Loaf's old buddy and master of the Wagnerian, Jim Steinman. I'm about to ask him why but I'm laughing too much. The Bad News [one-shot spoof band made up of the cast of TV comedy 'The Young Ones'] mondo-metal version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" has just come on the in-house cassette and Patricia thinks it's The Cult!
--Let's talk over eats Eldritch. Where d'you fancy? "Oh, anything but Indian."
--Really? I thought you'd be a man for a ruby. "No, I refuse to eat anywhere they beat us at cricket."
--Italian then? "Italian."
--Where have you been since you last appeared in the hallowed pages of The Maker?
"Well, we went through the corporate wars in my familiar Jonathan E-type role and we did okay. A lot of untruths have been bandied about those times but unfortunately, the way we won makes it tricky for us to explain how we did it and, therefore, prove that we did. It was basically over the name - the people that are now The Mission and myself had an agreement no-one would use the name when the band went its separate ways. But, after they'd been touting their demos round getting nowhere under all sorts of other names, they began to claim rights to it which patently had to be stopped. And when they wanted to be called The Sisterhood, there was nothing I could do but be The Sisterhood before them - the only way to kill that name was to use it, then kill it. I think that reflected rather badly on the name The Sisters of Mercy and it's probably due for re-instatement for that reason if no other."
"Then there was a little disagreement with the publishers, RCA Music, over what would happen to the money. Effectively it all kept us out of action."
--Was it frustrating to see The Mission become successful in the meantime?
"No, because they're not doing something I'd like to do and they're certainly not doing it in the way I'd like to do it. Anybody could go out and be The Alarm or The Cult, which is exactly what they've done."
--You don't see them as a legacy of The Sisters of Mercy at all then?
"No... I mean, they took the interest and capitalised on that but, musically, no. It was noticeable for about a year that they couldn't get press unless they mentioned my name. I saw interviews with myself so many times by proxy - that got irritating because...well, Wayne has a REMARKABLE way with the truth."
--Is there bitterness between you then?
"Yeah. Yeah, there is."
--Personal or corporate?
--You suggest there's a fundamental difference in ATTITUDE between The Sisters of Mercy and The Mission.
"Yeah, their ability to bend over forwards in order to make progress appalls me. The way they've bent over contracts and been appropriately assaulted for it which, again, is something they've not really been prepared to let on about."
"Musically, too. I never sang a lyric of Wayne's. I never found one I COULD sing."
--History has proved that, when The Sisters disappeared from public view, was exactly the time you should have been reaping your greatest rewards. What, other than legalities, prompted your inaction?
"Well, I wasn't well. I'd done three tours that year and I thought we'd come to the end of a logical course. I titled that Royal Albert Hall gig 'Wake' about four months before it actually happened, and the band are probably still wondering why.
I mean, I thought it should still have gone on but I knew it wasn't going to."
"The last time we actually spent any time together, at the end of the tour before the Albert Hall, we had some time playing in America and then we had a week off in Los Angeles. I went to Mexico for the day and the other two couldn't think of anything better to do than go to Disneyland. And when I got back from Mexico a WEEK later, having got somewhat..uh..distracted,
I thought, 'God, what are these people whingeing about, really?' They just got so feeble."
"Then they said, 'well, okay, what are we gonna do for new songs?' And I said 'how about this, this and this' and, unfortunately, the first 'this' I cited had too many chords per minute and Craig said 'if that's the guitar line, I'm not playing it' and walked out. That was really that."
"But Wayne had already become a problem because he wanted to do more of his songs and I thought they were particularly vacuous. I used to have to fight with him to get the songs to make any sort of grammatical sense, let alone be sharp with it.
I mean, you've gotta know grammar before you can work away from it. The guy didn't have a clue - he'd just string buzz words together."
--Strangely enough, someone from The Maker was around Wayne while he was writing recently and he had a book of aphorisms with all the mystical-type ones underlined in red.
"That's how most people do it. I can't bring myself to work that way. That's what passes for revolution these days. I'm glad I wasn't around in '86 because it wasn't just The Mission, it was a bad year all over and anyone who broke then will be tainted with it for a long, long time."
--But surely you're responsible. You introduced a generation of synth-pop fashion fops to the thrill of anti-fashion, "When The Levee Breaks", outlaw biker chic and drug innuendo and guitars and ripped jeans and dry ice. Without The Sisters and the vacuum you created when you went to ground, there could scarcely have been grebo and Zodiac Mindwarp.
"I dispute that. That's like saying Christ is responsible for the Mormons - it's really not on. I don't know what you lot were left with. So what's grebo rock?"
"Oh, without the grunge. Maybe I SHOULD have taught them outrageousness."
--You sound like the Godfather of Goth.
"Ha! When we were trying to sell 'Corrosion' to Steinman, we told him it was like the high-point of a Borgia's disco evening and he went for it. Nobody makes gloriously stupid records nowadays."
"No, they're embarrassing. Steinman and I are the only two who share this glorious stupidity. Don't tell him though. He just thinks 'Corrosion' is perfectly normal. Other bands have no perspective on the stupidity of it all. They say things like 'Oh well, we never claimed we were original' or 'well, of course rock's stupid' but it's just spiel, it's just Eldritch lines misunderstood."
--Surely this is where the attitude comes into it. The difference between The Sisters and the pretenders to the throne is irony-in-overdrive, an irony that takes the piss out of AND celebrates its role models.
"If you do it right, it compounds itself at every level. 'Corrosion' is an enrichment of bombast - there was no other way to do it."
--A lot of old Sisters fans are gonna say 'he's taking the piss'.
"Well, of course I'm taking the piss - it's the only way to be serious about it. Same as it ever was."
--So this is crap AND fantastic. It's time we redefined the difference between man and beast. It's nothing to do with how many legs you walk on; it's everything to do with the possession of irony. I know people who are animals.
"And I had a cat that had a very highly developed sense of irony."
--"Corrosion" is already being compared to some pretty Godlike things. One of them is The Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want".
--So it's pop about pop.
"That's a very important element, yeah. You have to acknowledge the medium in the message, I think, or else you're stupid... dishonest...or just very naïve."
--In a sense, your attitude was a precursor to sampling. You were acknowledging Led Zeppelin before The Beastie Boys USED them. Is their physical, literal approach even more honest than yours?
"I think that's a lower level, a very vulgar interpretation. In about two years' time I'll cover 'When The Levee Breaks' and wipe the floor with The Beastie Boys and wipe the floor with The Cults because they haven't got a grip on what is great about Led Zeppelin. It's like The Mission going out and covering Sisters' music, they just make it sound like bad Echo & The Bunnymen."
"I remember I want to see The Alarm when they were knee-high to Big Country and I thought 'these people have COMPLETELY misunderstood Mott The Hoople' and it's been happening ever since. I'm now used to people misunderstanding me though it's weird when you get all these ersatz Eldritch clones out there treading the boards."
--You've never seen Fields Of The Nephilim?
"No. I'm told we played with them once in San Francisco but I wasn't actually there when they played."
Patricia: "They knew I was there and afterwards, they came up and started talking to people next to me. I just left, I wasn't even going to speak to them. I mean, for a moment when they were on, I turned and thought 'this is familiar, what's this?'"
"The only reason that people like that embarrass me so much is that, if they're really that hooked on me, they must be tasteless. It gets to the stage where you think 'I'm not THAT good and anyone who thinks I am must be an idiot'."
"They haven't got a grip but there's an inner integrity and authority in 'Corrosion' which comes of pain, grief and suffering.
I couldn't do what The Mission are doing, I couldn't do what The Cult are doing, I couldn't do what The Beastie Boys are doing, I couldn't do what Madonna is doing, I could do what Alice Cooper did but I'm not extrovert enough. I would have no scruples about doing it if I were able to. There's an acknowledgement there that you don't find in other, smaller vulgarisms."
"And if it takes a year fighting corporate wars in order to be able to do it with integrity, then I'll do it...or not at all. I don't HAVE to do this."
--Don't you have a touching belief that the role of a recording artist is a reason to be intelligent and communicative, and isn't that belief extraordinarily old-fashioned?
"Yeah, and self-destructive."
--So you're fighting a rearguard action.
"Or vanguard, depending on how you look at it."
--I hope history proves you right.
"I hope so too because I don't think this irony compounds itself properly unless you do add an extra layer on the top, unless you do mix something worthwhile in."
--Don't we need a new era of innocence? Don't we need to UNLEARN how to progress?
"No, we need a new era of cynicism. The reason the NME, for instance, can't comprehend this sort of thing is that they don't have that cynicism. They still believe that rock'n'roll is supposed to be naïve and wonderful and, if you give them irony, they say 'Oh dear, that's distasteful. Let's forget about it. Let's pretend it's not humorous.' That's a very primitive cynicism born out of a very vulgar and naïve ideology."
--Has pop music let you down?
"No. I know what it's capable of because, when I grew up, it was blatantly capable of it and it was delivering. Expectations have been lowered since and deliveries have been faltering. It's just a question of raising people's expectations again.
We can do it. I'll make the records if you'll raise the expectations. It's a long war but 'Corrosion' might win one battle and, after all, it's the only war worth fighting."
--How much is revenge the motive?
" 'The Gift' was revenge, a weapon very specifically pointed. This is the gloating, much more widespread, more general."
--Why did you go to live in Hamburg?
"It's the largest city in the Federal Republic which is the most powerful country in Europe. It's just such a cool place because it's not populated by cool people like Berlin. Love the people."
--Do you feel badly done in by Britain then, by the press...
"Yeah. Not so much these days because I've got a reasonable amount of goodwill stored up, but one knows it's only goodwill as long as you don't start going on about aesthetics when they ask you what your favourite colour is."
--Perhaps you were better off as goth's missing man, the Eighties' own Jim Morrison. I can just hear the headlines - "Eldritch spotted gunrunning in South America". As soon as you come back, you're just part of...
"The circus? I don't think so because this record is so far off what people expect, especially after 'Gift'. And, I mean, apologies to Slough but we ain't gonna be out there playing next week. Or the week after. Or the week after that. I'm not going to be turned into the sort of person where, after awhile, there are only two sorts of people - there's the entourage, and they're good guys, and then there's the bastard public and they're just there to make the turnstiles go click. Or, if they've got a pulse, they get f*cked and, if they haven't, then they're the people you score the drugs off. It's really dehumanising."
--What are your writing impulses now? Considering that you've cleaned up and look fit(ter) and happy, can we really expect the traumatised emotional blackmail of "Marian" or the vicious drug inertia of "Nine While Nine"?
"I'm only this fit because I'm about to be tortured all over again. I'm not gonna do it to myself by touring but this business takes an awful lot out of you. As for all the myths about me - well, the ones you know are perfectly true."
--Of course. You feed off your myth.
"If someone's come up with a good idea, I don't think 'hm, better go out and live that one', not like Wayne."
--So the drug-taking, womanising rock'n'roll rebel isn't that important?
"No. I have a body of work built up that is so substantial that it will eventually get Dylanologized. I have total faith in the ability of history to judge, which is why the gloating of 'Corrosion' is so non-specific. I don't feel the need to say 'hey, I'm being vindicated now'."
All the while we're talking, incidentally (or maybe not so incidentally), Eldritch has three pairs of shades arranged before him on the table - two wire-framed bikecop models and a vaguely RayBan number.
--Has your lay-off changed your attitude at all?
"It's confirmed my unwillingness to pay attention to anybody else. I overhear things but I make no effort to listen. We don't really figure to re-enter the arena; we figure to sit in the emperor's seat for awhile, then go on holiday, then sit in the emperor's seat for awhile, then go on holiday, then sit in the emperor's seat for awhile... We're not interested in being Christians or lions really. Before, I was a Christian. Now I'm an emperor. A benevolent one. I mean, if I had my way, I'd stop the lions eating the Christians, but some people seem born to be Christians and some people seem born to be lions and there's not a lot you can do. Thanks to them, we've been pushed into the emperor's chair. It's quite comfy."
--Have you, in your time away, seen anything encouraging?
"What, to do with music?"
--To do with anything.
Twenty seconds' silence. Then, "No. But nothing discouraging either. It's all just perfectly logical and according to the scheme of things. Life went on and I expect it to go on. I'd find it pretty weird, in fact, if I had seen any light... or darkness."
--Control seems important to you while, all around, others are relinquishing theirs.
"Yeah. But, you see, although I put my sole existence into making records, I don't need to make records. I mean, if I hadn't gone off and been a little degenerate in the meantime, I daresay I'd have joined the Diplomatic Corps - that's what I'm trained for. Or MI6."
--So what'd you think of "Spycatcher"?
"That's pretty damn irrelevant - that's all to do with the Home Office isn't it? I haven't read it but I believed Harold when he said it the first time. I was pretty young then but I figured 'sure, that's the way the world is'. I can't see what the surprise is all about. And then there was Nixon - what the hell did they expect? It's just politics."
--So was Nixon hard done by or was he just dumb to get caught?
"I thought Nixon was a great president. He got the Americans out of Vietnam, he made friends - to some extent - with the Russians and he certainly made friends with the Chinese. He was the best president in terms of foreign policy that nation had in a long time and I thought they were very stupid to get rid of him. He was very stupid to make a mess of covering up Watergate -
I mean, Reagan survived Irangate."
Patricia: "I was over there when that happened and, you know, Reagan called up Richard Nixon and asked him how to survive it."
--Eldritch is supposed to be a pretty ruthless character himself.
"Not really. I'm a counter-attacker by nature. I'm not a pre-emptive strike man."
--Most people in your position, if they're interested in maintaining control, tend to make a point of confounding (Robert Smith) or confirming (John Lydon) their public image. You tend to do neither.
"That's where the hardship comes in. It's a lot of extra work and a lot of extra worry and it's dreadful publicity. Anecdotes?
I just don't have them."
--Will "Corrosion" chart?
"I'm told it will. I don't care. It's a good record now, it'll be a good record in five years' time. I don't care when people buy it, though I think it's more accessible to people, it has a more accessible top layer than maybe records we've had out in the past. That's just a function of the way it's recorded, I don't think it's a function of the song."
--So the song's a wolf in sheep's clothing. Or..uh..a wolf in..what? Brontasaurus' clothing? I dunno, I'll cheat and put in something really witty and apposite when I write this.
"Ha! I think it's a shark in wolf's clothing. That was a pretty duff metaphor to start with. Forget about that one..."
--But it is devious.
"Not deceitfully so. It's just crafty. Whatever level you take it on, I hope it makes sense. I mean, I'd like people to go for everything they can get out of it and all at once - that's what symbolism and obscurism are all about - but I don't expect that.
It's the only thing I get off on though. It's the only thing that would make me wanna sing the same song two nights running on tour. It's gotta have that overwhelming panoply of effects."
--What do you read now?
"Der Spiegel and The [London] Times - I've started doing the crossword again. Last month I read 'Pilgrim's Progress' and 'Beowulf'."
"I don't have a television in Hamburg. That's one of the reasons for not writing in Leeds because I'd spend 24 hours - well, 25 hours a day by the time I'd taken some medicine - watching TV. I was very pleased to be forced to catch the Rutger Hauer season while we were in the studio. Patricia was renting anything with Rutger Hauer in it. Some of them are real stinkers but he's so funny in 'The Hitcher' - it's a brilliant comic performance. You'll love it."
"It really makes you wanna go out and do it. There's not a lot of films in which the character is so obviously deranged but, at the same time, makes it look like such fun that even the sanest person could imagine doing it. I mean, to go out and wanna be 'The Terminator' you've gotta be a moron basically - it's great to watch but you'd never do it yourself. This is different."
--So what makes you happy Eldritch?
"Cats still make me ludicrously happy."
--What makes you sad?
"Nothing makes me sad because I think there has to be some element of surprise in order to feel sad."
"Well, I'm thinking of learning to drive. The thing is, whenever I go abroad, I invariably end up driving and I don't have a license or anything which is probably not the thing to do. Then, you see, what happens after that is I buy a car. At the moment I just can't figure out how to enjoy that because I don't particularly like cars for their own sake and I don't particularly like driving.
I'm very bad at it. I get these urges. I see these things and I wonder 'what if...?' That's why I don't really enjoy it; because I'm responsible enough not to do what I feel the urge to do. I don't get the urge to drive fast, I just get the urge to drive off the road, especially when there's nothing on either side of me."
"It's got nothing to do with suicide; it's just got to do with driving a car off the edge of a cliff."
--How would you kill someone?
"It would depend whether it was someone I liked or someone I didn't like."
--Okay, someone you like.
"It depends whether I think they'd appreciate something spectacular or something just very sedate. I thought the self-destruct programme in 'Soylent Green' was pretty good for the sedate. I think if it was someone I really, really liked and they'd appreciate the spectacular, it would involve an expanse of scenery and an extraordinarily fast car."
--And those you don't like?
"I'd always want it to take longer. It's best to kill someone they really like, I think."
--You suggest in what you just said that you like and dislike but not love and hate.
"I'm very wary of it. I have to be very careful because I think I'm probably a bit obsessive by nature. I had to TOTALLY stop drinking in order to maintain any business whatever. I don't gamble. I don't do smack."
"Absolutely not. I only ever really did it once and I don't think I'm likely to do it again."
--Because you don't like losing your personality in someone else or because you don't like inflicting it?
"Both. We were just dreadful for each other. It didn't stop it being brilliant but it's marginally better that it doesn't happen anymore. That's tough. It still hangs over to the extent that I couldn't do it again."
--What would induce you to lose your self-control, to endanger yourself in passion?
"I've only ever done that when I wasn't quite... well, onstage I've done things that afterwards I've thought 'no! Eldritch that was just beyond the pale.' "
--Because you could or because you were out of it?
"Because I could, because I was out of it and because I had to. If you're in front of a crowd, you're in a position of responsibility and, if they're all waiting for you to sort out one moron, then you have to do it."
--Did you feel pissed-off being put in that position?
"Yeah. I mean, the last time it happened, I spent half an hour trying to talk the crowd into sorting out their own problem and then, eventually, I just dived. It was really sad. I felt very ashamed on their behalf that they let me do it."
--Okay, that's it. Was it good for you?
"I never know. I always go away thinking 'well, I haven't said enough about post-war dramatic theory or fencing or Chinese philology' which are, y'know, the things I really care about. And then someone always comes up to me and says 'well? Did you tell them how great the record is?' and I go 'oh, actually that never occurred to me.' "
--Mission accomplished I think.
"Well, I don't feel the urge to express myself outside the songs. I'm useless at small talk and I'm really a pretty boring person."
--It's only that you've never sat across a table from Wet Wet Wet that allows you to say such things.
"No really, I can never remember a joke and I don't feel the need. The only conversations I quite get off on these days are the ones I have with you where we discuss how crap conversation is. I'm not socially-honed and I don't feel the need to be; I was pretty cruel when I was. It got to be beyond a joke. Once you convince yourself you're the all-time best at it, where d'you go from there?"
"I don't feel enigmatic. Enigmatic is being deliberately obscure and I'm not. I might be oblique but that's only because, to me, obliqueness is a clearer way of expressing something in its entirety."
--Could this be the Oxford University training - the art of leaving oneself least open to attack, or are we talking about truth here?
"Truth. I can do the other as well but I'm too out of training to be able to do that and, when I got really good at it, I began to despise myself for it. In the songs, that crops up again and again, the contempt of oneself when one finds oneself on the verge of getting involved with all that."
--So you're talking about a search for communication or a loathing of not wanting to communicate?
"I really don't know but, aside from the bit about Roy Kinnear, I stand by everything I've ever said to you."
I've had to wait two years for Andrew Eldritch to come round to my flat bearing the fruits of his labour, 'Floodland', an album he feels certain will justify his place in our hearts and will be a worthy successor to his debut 'First And Last And Always'. Thirty seconds after the needle hit the plastic I know he's right.
Eldritch has spent over half his adult life studying languages, yet still finds most conversations an insurmountable obstacle course. Given the right people to talk to (he finds conversing with my cats easier than most humans) he is the most articulate, erudite and intelligent man in ripped jeans.
Eldritch doesn't belong to the world of the commonplace, the land of the autoteller, the plastic charge or polystyrene mind. He belongs to the fragile and fragrant world of a serpentine imagination, a spiraling chaos.
To understand Eldritch is to understand defeat, and then know how to conquer it. The struggle is all. He has stared defeat in the face and merely hiccupped. Now he has offered to take you on a journey through 'Floodland' - a guided tour of the watery canals that tenuously link The Sisters Of Mercy to the real world.
"It sounds somewhat strange to me now after all this time. It's a solid album, almost subsumed by it's own weight. The first side you need an awful lot of drugs to get through it. The second is more textured, more powerful."
Is there a visual soundtrack that could accompany 'Floodland'?
"Perhaps a slow motion shot of the Aurora Borealis exploding, or the scene on the heath in 'King Lear'."
And who would play Lear?
"Reg Varney." A long pause. "I'd be a good fool. Knowing you're being stupid has never stopped me being stupid."
'Dominion/Mother Russia' was a Wagnerian opera until a Bolshevik Chevy convertible crashed into the chorus.
"I think 'Dominion' has it within it to entice the unwary. I made the mistake of getting caught in central Europe when Chernobyl started sprinkling it's residue over the land. It's part of my hate/hate relationship with America. I just had the idea of all them huddled in their mobile homes while 'Mother Russia' rained down on them. They deserve it. I suppose the song is really about the prostitution of Europe by the Americans."
This brings us to the drowning funnel of love of 'Flood I'. A lugubrious passage through water with serrated edges.
"I never really knew how much I missed the water until I moved to Hamburg. I love to be next to it. Water is the most impressive thing you can almost get to grips with. The problem with 'Flood I' is that it was written in a certain state of mind, shall we say, and I haven't visited that place again. You know...altered states."
Amid a deluge of lines about rain, oceans, seas, rivers there's a peculiar inclusion: "While strange men rent strange flowers". What the hell does this mean?
"What happens in Hamburg is that, at two in the morning, these Turks come round the bars selling roses to couples who aren't quite couples yet but might be by half past two. I rather liked the idea that these couples could rent these flowers until they became couples then they could give them back and they would be recyclable. The Turks would make more money and the couples wouldn't get burdened with these thorny things."
He pulls his glasses down from the bridge of his nose. "Actually, I think it's a metaphor for ephemeral love," he adds in his finest Roger Moore supercilious accent.
The compassion in 'Lucretia My Reflection' is trussed with barbed wire - a most succulent torture.
"That's my welcome on board Patricia (Morrison - SOM backing vocalist) song...I've been proclaimed dead so many times, I've created things that others have tried to take, this is my answer. I had to fight very hard to preserve what was mine. Not only with the band split but in a general sense too. I spent two years retrieving my physical health."
Why choose a woman whose name is synonymous with mass murder and poisoning? Lucretia Borgia isn't exactly most people's idea of a good lover or a good cocktail waitress.
"I think she was quite benign in her own way. Patricia always strikes me as a Lucretia-type person. I still don't understand why state-ordained murder is acceptable, but in this age of free enterprise, the individual act of killing can still be punished. The sanction of the state is something I've never understood."
"Friends of mine killed just because of the way the state operates. Buildings fall on people in New York every month so obviously as a result of the enterprise culture. They're designed to fall down. I used to carry a steel bar up my sleeve but only for the purpose of defense. Myself, I feel constantly assaulted by the state but I can't take a steel bar and whack it one and I'm always at great pains not to encourage others to do the same. The youth leader whose idea of fun is leading young people into pitched battle seems immensely stupid. These are dangerous subjects to talk about..."
The Sisters Of Mercy will not be performing live in the foreseeable future. Eldritch has too many memories of life on the road.
"I like the idea of concerts," he says, "but tours? That's something else. Night one you haven't got your act together. Night two, your voice is fucked. Night three you're already going through the motions. Night four you're trying to stand stationary and stop slavering and by night five, you're resorting to the old you-know-what just to keep going. From then on it's downhill all the way. It's that hideous rollercoaster ride that turns you into a beast. There are some people that function very well in the beast mode, but sadly I'm not one of them."
This leads us to the next stop on the tour, the melancholy ballad '1959', Eldritch's birthday, Eldritch's star-turn.
"1959 was of course a special year for the world. I guess the song is about innocence - inherited as opposed to environmental. I had a time a year and a half ago when, for the first time in my life, I was totally happy and I realised it at the time. It lasted about two weeks. There are still some strands of the song I don't understand. I can tell I don't understand because I can still marvel at it. It's the only one here that still does that to me. It's unassailable, even transcending my own ability to superimpose myself on the song. It's out of control."
It is also the only time in his career when Eldritch has approached the word child, or children without a scratching contempt.
"But even then it's close," he hisses.
Do you like your audience?
"Yes I'm incredibly fond and protective of them, hate to see them abused by other people and accept second best," he says leaving a purpose built silence.
"Our audience was always different - when they kicked the shit out of each other they used to apologize afterwards. They're very sharp as well. They always know what I'm talking about. I can't express myself coherently in anything other than songs. It might not sound coherent when I sing it, and even when it is it may be too oblique to be of any use to anyone, but it's almost all there."
His face cracks with a satisfied smile every time 'This Corrosion' is mentioned. His eyes look out for the fatted calf.
"It's my war cry," he says warmly. "Despite the title, it's actually a constructive song because nearly all of it should be thought of in quotation marks. It would be too confusing to print them all, basically it's a very poor form of argument - putting words into someone else's mouth and then explaining how stupid they are. It is, of course, directed at somebody and it doesn't take a genius to work out who, although it'll probably take the person concerned some considerable time. I find it embarrassing watching people humiliate themselves for their absurd idea of rock'n'roll."
'Flood II' revisits the seascape etched on Side One but seems to lurch against the tide to greater effect.
"It's certainly more focussed. 'I' is 'Are you sure we really want to do this?,' and 'II' is 'Yeah, here we go!' In normal circumstances, the raising of arms is a sign of exultation but, if you're surrounded by water, it's complete submission, 'Down we go'. This is both at once."
Is the flood a baptism or simply annihilation?
"It's sex - at least in this context. Most people, if you think about it, only get wet under certain circumstances..." The left eyebrow arches. "It's also a little bit about what happens to me in water. Water and I do NOT mix. I can't breathe well when I'm in it. I taught myself to swim at a very late age, which took a lot. I'm always impressed by water. Frightened? No, fright implies some element of surprise and I'm never surprised by water. You know what it's there for - it's there to impress you! Water is something so mammoth, so a flood is emotionally very stimulating. To surrender to it so willingly with such enthusiasm I think would be quite exciting. It seems a brave move."
From Noah's Ark to Joan Of Arc, religious symbols litter the album. Are you a religious person?
"I might be. I was brought up on religious symbolism so it's very difficult to escape. Until someone writes a book as good as The King James' Bible I think it's the best alternative. I firmly believe in oblivion though. I can't see the point of my flood unless it leads to oblivion."
Throughout 'Floodland', Eldritch's main preoccupation is the struggle against futility under the sign of the mushroom and the sound of big bang. He is utterly convinced he'll never make it through his natural lifespan and seems concerned only whether Hamburg will be vaporized or meet with a tidal wave. He hopes for the latter.
"When I first moved to Germany I didn't realise that they practice nuclear alerts. When the siren went off, bloody loud, all across the state at 10 in the morning, I thought it was really happening. A friend had just met a violent death two weeks before and my first thought was, 'What a pity she's going to miss this', because I knew it was going to look brilliant. It seemed sad that something so important was going to be missed by anyone."
And your second thought?
"I was just about to stand in the middle of the road because I thought I'd get a better view from there and thought it would be less painful, and then it occurred to me that it might be a chemical attack so I stood indoors waiting. When I knocked on my flatmate's door, she just giggled at me. I felt somewhat foolish about it afterwards."
We move to the plaintive roar of 'Driven Like The Snow'. The humorist suddenly gags, when considering his own near destruction that followed the demise of his one and only love affair.
"There's not a decent vocal on this because I could never get to the end without having to stop. It's like the song on the first album, 'Nine While Nine'. This is really 'Nine While Nine Part II'. Too close for comfort."
It's strange Eldritch should use ancient metaphors like 'white as snow' to illustrate such individual trauma.
"They're not familiar to me. I'm not familiar with them because I've never really sorted nature - been at one with it. I find the outside perpetually strange. It's not real, like indoors is real so, when I encounter it, it feels like a fresh metaphor. I didn't really want to write or sing it, but I think the song helped to explain very logically why we had to fall apart. There's a logic to pain you can't ignore."
Besides singing 'Driven Like The Snow' what else has made you cry this year?
"I don't really express myself even to myself well enough to really cry over things. The songs do a better job than I can."
Our final stop leads us to the fragment called 'Neverland' - a call of anguish and an echo of joy that this time defies gravity (in both senses).
"I had this vision. You know in the summer if you lay on the grass and stare at the sky, you can almost see beyond the stars, but cannot quite get a grip on what's there? Well, sometimes it's very difficult to work out exactly what it is that keeps you pressed between the earth and the sky and why you don't whoosh off into oblivion. 'Neverland' is coming about this the other way: the entire population of the earth starting to travel from some indefinable point in space toward the earth at increasing speed. It would take an eternity to reach the earth -by which time you'd be reasonably spiritualised - and even when you reached the destination, you wouldn't actually hit the ground. You'd be going so fast you'd just go through and out the other side, where there is another eternity of nothingness. I just tried to write a song about these impressions."
It was soon after this that Eldritch stopped taking hallucinatory drugs.
"It felt very liberating at the time. Like the fifth day of playing 24 hour Scrabble when you don't want to use any letters because each one means a world to you because you're so deranged."
At this point I make a fascinating discovery. If I wear my mirror shades and look into Eldritch's, all I can see is my reflection within his within mine within his within...This is as close to oblivion as either of us wish to get at four in the afternoon so we call a truce, remove the mirrors, and devise promotional devices for the release of 'Floodland'.
Eldritch still thinks a Sisters sword-stick would do fine, or a douche-bag (although he hasn't a clue what a douche-bag actually is, he thinks it would be useful around the house). Failing that perhaps a Sisters cattle-prod, or...
"Or a Sisters Of Mercy domestic flame thrower. Although I think a sword-stick would do the same job more elegantly. I'm very rusty at fencing now though."
For those who may have got lost or waylaid on the journey through Floodland, here are some important fact that might help you to savour the acute irony of the Sisters Of Mercy:
* Eldritch has never eaten Japanese food because he wants to save up the experience.
* His favourite smells are: Pears soap with hot water ("It's a very transcendental experience"), Cornflakes with hot milk, Wrights Coal Tar soap with hot water ("the most pious smell in the universe"), Josephine (see "Driven Like The Snow")[** see footnote], oblivion, and the BBC World Service ("very pungent, like cricket").
* Eldritch hates radishes, despite the fact that he has never tasted one in his life.
* Eldritch owns a collection of swords and sabres but refuses to possess a gun, mainly because he knows he'd use it.
* His first thought on waking up each morning is, "Where's the Marlboro?"
* Eldritch is the only person on earth who finds listening to Leonard Cohen an erotic experience. This is largely because he spent his student days at Oxford listening to Cohen while visiting various beds in the nearby nursing college.
* He is as old as Michael Jackson.
* In a Spanish radio interview last week, the DJ asked Eldritch what his five favourite records were. After hearing just three the DJ gave up. "The first was Elgar's Cello Concerto. Number Two was 'Je T'Aime' [** see footnote] and I was just about to get into the details of how Gary Glitter must be an awesomely intelligent human being to create anything as ridiculous and fantastic as 'Didn't Know I Loved You Till I Saw You Rock'n'Roll' when he pulled the plugs. I was serious about them though."
* If reincarnation exists, Eldritch would like to come back as a cat. His worst fear is returning as a Frenchman.
* His favourite book of the moment is an old Thirties guide to learning Chinese, written for ex-pats. 'The example phrases are amazing. Like 'Tell my coolie to put the bags in the car'. Or 'Where's my pink gin?' It was completely useless for Chinese but a good guide for how to run someone else's country."
Add these incidental facts together and what do you get? The world's greatest living Englishman.
Facing up to the fact that nothing is new tends to separate the boys from the men. Some, like George Michael, plagiarise. Others, like The Cult, feign ignorance. Eldritch - who sort of smirks between the two - mocks, uses choirs and Coleridge, taunts pop with its elders and betters.
And, because there's really no answer to nothing new, Eldritch wears the hair shirt and employs a sarcastic nihilism, an ironic mysticism. And if First And Last And Always, the Sisters' first album, was magnificent forgery, all dry-ice and deliberate emaciation - the most amusing and educated answer to there being no answer - then Floodland is more and less the same album. It's more in that Eldritch's malignant awareness of mortality has spread from the knowledge that nothing is new to the opinion that nothing is worthwhile, and it's less in that, being incapable of contemplating nothing, it reacts to time running out by amputating all the characteristic curlicues of elevating guitar and replaces them with stark, essential foundations.
In other words, Floodland is a sane manoeuvre in the shadow of an insane inevitability; an open abrasion between the hopelessness, puerility and uselessness of pop, the instinct to create something monumental to exceed the transitory and last for posterity, and the bitter realisation that global destruction is, in theory, and will be, in practice, mankind's ultimate creation.
What Eldritch has achieved on Floodland is the externalisation of his angst so the victim of love of First And Last... is now the chronicler of the holocaust. It's a role that suits Eldritch down to the trembling ground, giving rein to the blackest of ironies and setting that absurd Hades boom of a vocal so deep that you often have to oxyacetaline the meaning from the words as they sit, trapped in the mix like bodies in tangled chassis.
Floodland is a contradiction in terms, an edifice to decay and, as vigilante of the end of everything, Eldritch unleashes all his paranoia and obsession. The gargantuan, megalomaniac "Dominion/Mother Russia", the Steinman-co-produced anthem that launches the album, finds our hero forsaking that job in the diplomatic corps and pleading with Mother Russia to "rain down" while the magnificently minimal 'This Corrosion' cleaves through its own pompous austerity to admit "I got nothin' to say I ain't said before", a revelation which, far from suggesting a lack of imagination, indicates a surfeit of it. This is a crusade of sorts and that admission, alongside the monochromatic Luftwaffe metallic slap of 'Lucretia My Reflection', the breakdown of language during 'Floodland II' [sic] or the (surely) sampled nuclear depth charge drums from Led Zeppelin's 'When The Levee Breaks' on the finale, 'Neverland' (the Zep song, in a way, is Floodland in microcosm - see, it's all been said before), is a mark of shocking
When Eldritch sings "Seconds to the drop but it feels like hours..." the red light starts winking on the dashboard and we realise that 'Driven Like The Snow' is 'Nine While Nine' revisited because he can do nothing else - we're all waiting. Like the alternative comedian whose career rests ironically on Maggie being re-elected, Eldritch functions as a bomb baby and the unbearability of that results in the overbearing aspect of Floodland.
Dying on record is a dicey business, especially when it's world destruction that dogs your every waking minute because there's nowhere to go artistically - the bomb doesn't get worse, it's just there. Facing up to that, Floodland is a triumph of sorts, neither optimistic enough to suggest there's a Noah's Ark nor pessimistic enough to accuse us all of navigating like a ship of fools. It simply says rust never sleeps and this is what it sounds like.
So succesful was the collaboration between Sisters of Mercy, producer Jim Steinman and the New York Choral Society on 'This Corrosion', that the formula has been repeated on the follow-up single 'Dominion'. Ann Scanlon meets Andrew Eldritch and Patricia Morrison. Double trouble Mary Scanlon.
"More then one person has said to me, Is it true that you've never seen Andrew eat? What! Or when they ask me if I sleep in a coffin, of course I'm going to say yes." - Patricia Morrison
Something stirs in the sleazy side streets of Hamburg.
It's raining as usual in Hamburg.
The incessand drizzle has cast a grey shadow over the great port for almost a month now; and nowhere is the cloud more evident then on the banks of the Elbe.
It's on the docklands, in a five-year-old squat on the Hafenstrasse, that there has been escalating conflict between squatters and the Hamburg authorities.
The crises neared a climax when the squatters and their supporters overturned cars and ripped up paving stones to barricade the streets.
In the early hours of that partucal morning, civil war did not seems such an unlikely event.
Caught in the turbulence - which was eventually quelled when the squatters were offered a five-year lease on their homes - is a gentleman from the The Times, whi is finding some unexpectedly colourful bakground copy for his article on Englishman abroad, Andrew Eldritch.
A week later Eldritch is sitting in a sparesely furnished apartment, a street just off the Reeperbahn, with fellow Sisters Of Mercy, Patricia Morrison.
It's been three years since Eldritch took up residence in Hamburg and, as yet, he has no reason to regret the move.
"People are always asking me about Hamburg and saying, Why have you gone away?" he says. "But it couldn't be further from the truth. Leeds was getting like a long, long way away. Hamburg is definitely where it's at: it's the largest town in Germany, which happens to be the third largest recrod market in the world - England is only seventh."
"I speak very adequate German. It occurs to me naturally and I don't have a problem with any of the cultural things. I feel totally at home here."
Somewhat less at home is Patricia. It's been 12 months since her last visit to Hamburg, but she's a willing guest and is all set for one of Eldritch's all night edurance courses around the town.
First stop is the fair which, despite the rain, has attracted a more than adequate share of the Scandinavians, who descend on Hamburg in their busloads on Saturday nights ready to enjoy the fulsome pleasures of the Reeperbahn and anything else that Germany might have to offer.
The main attractions are the canopied forums, where hordes swill beer and yell schlager songs, and the displays of colourful confectionery - which specialise in huge chocolate hearts with luminous Ich Leibe icing and show the Germans at their most Hansel and Gretel grotesque.
This is Eldritch's first time amongst his Hamburg neighbours since The Sisters Of Mercy performed 'This Corrosion' on Formula 1 (the German Top Of The pops) a week previous. As his mirror shades fend off another group of is it? Or isn't it? stares, he reflects on the success of the single.
"Things have been a lot easier. One exerts the smae influence regardless, but sometimes it's heavy going... That's one of the reasons why i used (producer) Jim Steinman, cos when he says to the record company, We want choirs and you're going to pay for it now, they just hand over the money. Whereas if I asked for it they'd think, What's he really going to spend the money on?"
So effective was the Sisters/Steinman/New York Choral Society arrangement on 'Corrosion' that ti's being repeated on their next single 'Dominion', albeit in a remixed format to the one that opens their 'Floodland' LP.
'Dominion' was actually Eldritch first choice single, but Morrison persuaded him to go for 'This Corrosion' instead.
"'Dominion' is a stronger song," she says, "but I still think that 'This Corrosion' was an excellent choice for a first single."
She remains, however, completely unaffected by their Top Ten flirtation.
"People often ask if things have changed since the single. No! it's changed for other people but for us it's exactly the same."
"But then again, the day that we were on Top Of The Pops, that major earthquake hit my mother's hometown in LA and destroyed everything that I had there. I called her to tell her about the single entering at 13 and going up to number seven and I didn't even mention it when I heard about the house."
"That day was just a little reminder of what's really important."
Born in LA to an Irish mother and Italian father, Patricia Morrison is the Celtic/Latin spark to Eldritch's singularly English detachment.
"I was warned by just about everyone about working with Andrew." she recalls, "but simple fact is we're just a lot alike. And having spent this much time together we've sort of rubbed off on each other: I've gotten a much wickeder tongue - well, I've always had a whicked tongue but after hanging around with him I've learned how to use it. And he seems to have learned patience quite a bit, from having to deal with me if nothing else."
Like Eldritch, Patricia has suffered her fair share of acrimony, most memorably with her first band, LA punks The Bags.
"When The Bags threw me out they wrote hate songs for me and really made a go of it - but they only did about three shows before they fell apart."
When Patricia split from The Gun Club she attempted to form a band with Kid Congo before going to Leeds to play bass in The Sisters Of Mercy.
"Andrew and I first met five years ago," she says, "and it was just assumed that we would one day work together. He's a gentleman and I enjoy that."
"He also makes me think, which si the main difference between the Sisters and Gun Club where you just went out, got drunk, played and di it over and over again. I know that I will be doing a lot more from having met Andrew than if I'd kept on the way i was going."
So far Patricia has assumed the role of the silent Sisters: sharing all the front covers but letting Eldritch do most of the talking.
"At this point I'd rather lsiten to Andrew's voice than my own," she explains. "He can quite easily cover what needs to be said. One journalist said to me, Patricia, I don't know anything about your past and I said, Lets keep it that way, I feel no reason to open my mouth under those circumstances. Ten people aske me the same question and depending on who it is they'll get ten different answers."
"Just recently journalists have been wondering if we're a couple or not, but they don't want to ask outright. And the way they go around it is so stupid that Andrew and I jsut look at each other; it's like a cat batting a mouse."
"More than one person has said to me, is it true that you've never seen Andrew eat? What! Or when they ask me if I sleep in a coffin, of course I'm going to say yes."
Eldritch, for his part, openly admits that he is deriving much of his current strenght from Patricia.
"She keeps me saner," he reflects. "I can be quite tempted on occasions to go for the rock'n'roll idiot trip and Patricia stops me from doing that; or rather she has a different way of doing it. I perfer her idea of wildness to some of the old Sisters' ideas, which I began to find rather disgusting."
"It's the same with any band that investigates to any degree the mroe unacceptable faces of general behaviour. You have to be quite close to disease to really scrutinise it properly, and there's a point where you get very close to being the victim of the disase that you're scrutinising - which is what happened to Birthday party. 'Junkyard' was right on the edge, and with The Bad Seed thing they became victims of their own exploration."
"I was determined that shouldn't hapen to me, and Patricia stops that; she stops me being puerile. All the things the Sisters used to do that I wasn't sure about could all be put down in essence to puerillity and the machismo thing; four boys in a enclosed environment."
"Also," he adds, "she steers me away from physically bad influences."
By midnight, the Sisters are back in St Pauli in a small bar that's warm, cheap and comfortable, and centered on the street where Eldritch lives.
He's scarcely had time to select a corner stool before a strange man is attempting to seel strange flowers. Eldritch isn't buying; it's white roses or nothing.
Although Eldritch can be found here during the early hours of most mornings, he rarely touches alcohol. Indeed, with the exception of an excessive period two years ago, he has shyed away from it since 1980.
He settle for coffee and the habitual Marlboro instead, and focuses his attention on the flow of taped music - this being one of the few places where Eldritch (who possesses neither a record player or television) garners and perspective on his comtenporaries.
"If you stayed here long enough," he says, "you'd hear Roger Whittaker singing schlager songs. The only reason you know it's him is because half way though the songs all this whitsling comes in and you realise, Rog! his songs make a lot more sense in the setting of German shclager pop ballads."
Ballads is not a word you would normally associate with The Sisters Of Mercy, but that is the form that Eldritch chose for '1959', the most melancholy moment on 'Floodland' and the song of which he is most proud of.
"Using a piano and a voice was quite a brave thing to do, cos I'm not techincally a good singer. I didn't set out to write a clever song, I just thought if I was my own piano player then this is what I'd want to hear. But it turned out to be very, very complicated and musically sophisticated which I thought was amazing cos I'd always figured myself to be a total musical moron. It's quite hard for me to figure out which are the white notes and which are the black."
If The Sisters Of Mercy were to take a third single of 'Floodland', then '1959' is the one that both Eldritch and Morrison would go for.
"I have this theory," he smiles, "that '1959' is so good and so special that it might just get a bit of ariplay which, for second and third single, is all we're talking about."
"I don't see the point of third singles for any reason other then outraging housewives and turning people on that we don't have an earthly chance of reaching and I think '1959' would do the quite well."
At 2 AM Eldritch is moving on to a bar up the road, which he loves for 'its total lack of chrome and complete ignorance of fashion.'
Alongside a glitzy disco and a goth groin exchange (where they play nothing but Sisters records), it forms one third of Hamburg's Bermuda Triangle - so called because that's where everyone disappears at dawn.
Midway between the bar and the eternal queue for the toilets is a solitary seat known as The Loser's Bench.
"That's where people go when they don't want anybody to speak to them," explains Eldritch. "I've been known to sit there with pen and paper for hours at a time."
"Sitting here now in this bar for hours
While these strange men rent strange flowers
I'll be picking up your petals in another few hours...
In a flood of your tears, in sackcloth
And ashes and ashes and secondhand passion
And stolen guitars..."
"Given the same basic situation," says Eldritch who, with or without shades, never underestimates the importance of a well-trained eyebrow, "'Flood I' would have been my previous response to it - that's it with a capital I - and 'Flood II' my present response. But 'Flood I' actually links a lot of the other songs together. It also links The Sisterhood fiasco to this but that's only in a sonic sense."
He almost grimaces, "I make it sound like some hideous mid '70s concept records. i think that's eitehr the record's greatest advantages or greatest flaw - that it is basically one very, very big multi-faceted song, which is quite an achievement when you consider that we first started recording 'This Corrosion' last January."
Eldritch seems much happier to talk about the sound of 'Floodland' rather than the actual songs. "I got nothing to say ain't been said before," he declares on 'This Corrosion' and the other tracks brandish his point.
The lipstick stained on cigarette on 'Driven Like The Snow' is a flashback to 'Nine While Nine'; the wound might heal but the scar grows with you. It's not a subject that Eldritch is keen to discuss.
"I don't like talking about the songs. Anything I sayo about 'Nine While Nine' is so tenth-rate compared with the way the song says it. I can't add to the songs in rpose or conversation without detracting from them or providing a temptation for people to infer something less than is actually implied."
"I often wish that the songs were much less based on personal experience because, not only do I give myself away far too muchm, but I increasingly wonder how much I now have in common with other people - and that matters a great deal because I'm no use to anyone unless I have common experience."
"I still think of myself as a resonably normal human being - all this artist on the edge business really doesn't appeal to me."
"It's hard work trying to write good songs," he continues. "But expectations is really low these days. No Scott Walker, no Gene Pitney...sad times."
Its most striking feature is that France, a country Eldritch has hated since his teens, has been replaced by water.
The water on the cover of 'Floodland' is not, however, the Channel but the Mersey.
"It was a nice coincidence," he smiles. "Serendipity. I've never been overly found of Liverpool...actually, I'd rather not explain that it's the Mersey because if you make a big deal about Liverpool being underneath the water instead of next to it, then the French aren't going to get a distressed as they would have good reason to be. They'd definititely be the first to go. But once I got the hang of it most everywhere would probably disappear."
Although 'Floodland' is soaked in water imagery, Eldritch insists that the theme wasn't international.
"I just wrote teh songs and it's only afterwards that you think, My God, there's water all the way through this. It's obviously got a lot to do with living here, because Hamburg's full of water."
"I also had this fond feeling that it might have something have something to do with the place where I was born (Isle Of Ely) where I lived for a week but have never been back."
For all the water on 'Floodland', the record is overshadowed by the inevitable spectre of the holocaust.
'Floodland' has a very clearly got the bomb witten all over it. 'First And Last And Always' did too, although it wasn't as obvious. The records are simply set in the world we lived in and I find it strange when other people's records aren't set in that context.
"That's the difference between Curiosity Killed The Cat and the Pet Shop Boys - Pet Shop Boys records are set in the world that's more or less inevitable; Curiosity's arent'."
"But it's still prossible to say that when it happens it's going to look great. And, given the fact that I missed Genesis, I would hate to miss the end."
"Thtat's where most popular culture falls down," he goes on, "it's just not set ina world that acknowledges the beauty of horror. The Church won't accept that the bomb looks brilliant; that napalm looks wonderful and smells great and that SS uniforms were the best clothing this century."
"Popular culture still tries to equate aesthetic beauty with moral good and that can't be done anymore good and that can't be done anymore cos no one can create anything as aesthetically beautiful as the Apocalypse."
Eldritch, who was brought up as a High Anglican, reckons that he alone could sort the Church out.
"I'd make a very aesthetic monk or a real bastard Cardinal."
He finally decides on the latter, advocating the gracious use of terrorism and flexing his power in a black Pontiac.
But until then, he is concentrating on the follow up to 'Floodland'.
"At any given time I only ever want to make the next record and that's a statement of fact. The next LP has already got a shape, and it'll be a damn sight better than this one cos it shouldn't repeat the same mistakes. And don't ask me what they are cos I'm not sure yet."
That said, there are still no plans to play live. Eldritch qualifies this with the logic that there is no point in going back to any of the places they've played before because people can still remember the last time; and the rest of the world probably isn't bothered or doesn't deserve them anyway.
After her days with The Gun Club, the bassist shares Eldritch's aversion for touring.
"Patricia would go mad,"he says.
Patricia: "And I don't have far to go...We'll probably do some live, but they will be done on the same scale as the album, and that takes quite an effort both in terms of time and money."
Most of the money from 'This corrosion' is being pumped into a Sinclavier studio, which will cost about £250,000 and ensure that in future The Sisters Of mercy spend as little time as possible in any studio but their own.
The Sistes Of Mercy, it seems, have nothing left to prove. Even Eldritch can afford to relax.
"I'm very good at being unpleasant," he admits, "but it's not a talent that I'm particualrly proud of, I think it's importanat to be clinically unpleasant, but I try not to do it unelss it's called for."
"I don't think I'm nicer to poeple than I was two years ago but I may be nicer to them more often. I even suggested to Warner that, as a promition device, i should do the Santa Christmas grotto in Debenhams."
"I could just see myself sitting there iwth a succession of little girls, What do you want for Christmas? Tough, you can't have it. Here's some hot metal and Methedrine."
"It was at the mention of Methedrine that the record company said, No, somehow we don't think Debenhams would go for that..."
(Andrew Eldritch, much maligned, man of mystery, Sister of Mercy etc., lies supine on the analyst's divan and Barbara Ellen, late of Vienna, takes the notes. Picture: Steve Pyke)
Andrew Eldritch does not forgive easily. When I sprint into his hotel room inevitably late, I find myself cast in the role of Enfante Terrible: Menace to Staunch Monuments to Sedate Professionalism (and other decent sectors of society).
Only Patricia Morrison has the grace to look interested. She gives me a look of arched brows and sympathy. Eldritch reclines on his hotel divan. Some kind of stranger. He has already informed me - by telephone - that my inefficiency was "not disastrous, merely prejudicial".
Now he toys with the advantage. A lithe, modern-look Caligula with more than a dash of Bluebeard. Together with Patricia Morrison, Eldritch has taken Sisters of Mercy into the charts with songs that have daggers for teeth.
Eldritch is nobody's fool. He is, in fact, living proof that an Emperor need not cavort naked before his subjects, and that conviction, wit and passion can be chart-smart once again. No wonder Patricia ducks and leaves. He is Public Enemy Number One.
--When was he last beaten up?
"Someone tried to take my eye out in Leeds once; I've got scars on it now. I didn't see them coming. Next thing I knew I got up off the floor with pieces of glass in my eye..."
--Does violence perplex you?
--Are you violent?
"Violence.. as I apply it is not physical."
--You indulge in...violent invective?
"I might use a violent vocabulary occasionally. And I might use it rather savagely...but I don't raise my voice. There's no point in raising one's voice in conversation."
Eldritch, one soon comes to realize, never raises his voice. He is never LOUD in any cheerful, vulgar sense of the word. He does not deal in borrowed plumes of the leftist variety, nor does he pump up the Neanderthal volume. Eldritch has a voice that consistently bewitches and terrifies.
And whereas in concert it assumes the shape of wire barb-ing into a whore's most intimate silks, in conversation, and at play, it is content to flirt and crack. Taking care even in extremes of rage or laughter never to relinquish its hold over that fragile, hot-eyed essence.
Now Eldritch falls silent. He tilts forward, fidgets wretchedly, redistributing his weight on the skinny divan. The cigarette welded to his hand sulks and glows, decomposing onto the bedspread. I have lost him again.
Eldritch is in a different world, possibly having his blood changed. And after the chaotic and brutal battle of the night before I know better than to pinch this dangerous sleepwalker.
Eldritch is no soft-bellied media pet. He does not require constant stroking or baiting. At times the interview is awkward, amusing by flashes. I am not taken for a grim and boring dance down Memory Lane. Nor am I lashed with the usual cosy banalities. Like his music Eldritch is compact and vicious, cruel and inexorably sexual. Maybe he needs a good analyst. Maybe he could become one. I look up, then jump. Something has unfrozen his face.
--Are you a manipulative person?
"Of course...I had to learn to be, on behalf of all the band. In an ideal world I would not have to be, but in this world some of those little muscles have to be flexed...I just try to preserve the distinction between US and THEM. I'm actually quite a decent bastard."
--You're of the Old School. An honourable man?
"It's all part and parcel of the same thing. I take how I behave in the industry very seriously. If I were to do an indecent thing I would feel soiled...but honourable men in the 20th century have to know how to be manipulative. It's not like the world consists of US, it consists of US and THEM...and frontal assault achieves so little in the modern world."
--You talk of Knowing Your Enemy. Who is the Enemy?
"Whoever you pick as your target today...but you can't fight something unless you understand it and that also includes understanding the attractions of it. When you get close it becomes very attractive. I've seen a lot of people pulled in by it. There are certain things I won't go close to again, I know I couldn't pull out. I won't get close to drinking again, or smack, or gambling."
--I see. (Been there, seen that, done that...). I take it you were once involved with all three?
"No. I was involved with drinking. I never learnt to drink in moderation."
--You shot away your liver?
"I shot away my self-respect."
--Are other chart acts The Enemy too?
(Eldritch snorts contemptuously) "They're not much of an enemy...that's piffle. I compete with the government, I don't compete with Rick Astley. He's inconsequential. A decoy thrown out by the government."
--The Man from U.N.C.L.E.?
"Either that or Satan."
--Stock, Aitken and Waterman actually.
"Yeah, Satan, Satan and Satan."
--Do you feel vulnerable?
"Not at all."
--How often do you make big mistakes?
"I never make the same mistake twice, which is all you can ask of anybody."
--What was your biggest?
"She had a name but I'm not going to tell you what it was and even that was a mistake that had to be made."
--Yeah, well let's not drag that up again...it's always discussed in your interviews.
"But it was my biggest and most necessary mistake."
--...One you can write down to experience.
"If you're telling me that experience consists solely of mistakes...I might be inclined to agree with you. But I think that says more about you than it does about me."
And so we collide, due to rank incompetence on my part, into the old, old story. A tale of spite, legality and passion. Starring Eldritch, Patricia Morrison and Hussey's (Crass) defectors. A bubbling jackanory of l-u-u-r-ve, bitterness and power. With male bit players kitted out in identical black hats and cuban slippers just to keep the media happy.
Eldritch - a gifted newcomer - seems capable of simulating the roles of Good Guy and Bad Guy. With equal amounts of conviction. Tonight he adopts a tone of measured acidity. 'When it comes down to experience', he seems to imply, 'this is bigger than both of us'.
--Could the world surprise you yet?
"I'm a pragmatist first and foremost... Could the world surprise me yet? Hm. I'd be surprised if there was an earthquake right now...I could even go to some place I'd never been to before and have some preconceptions overturned."
--Does this incorporate running away to India to Find Yourself?
"No, I don't like crowds. The only thing that could surprise me about India is if it looked like Hounslow. I have a very open mind."
--But are you a nice person?
"Hmmm...any honest person if you ask them that is going to dither. Allow me to dither for awhile here...quite a long while..."
--Must you always chew questions a hundred times before answering?
"If they're as nebulous as yours. That's not to say that a nebulous question isn't okay as long as you allow me to respond to it like a nebulous question. I have to pick which angle to take it from, and then attack it of course."
--Such contortions to such easy questions.
"Any one of these questions could lead me to ramble for hours."
--Or attack me...
"I use the word attack metaphorically...Have I a heart of gold?... I was made in God's image like everybody else...and there's nothing wrong with that answer, you lazy journalist you!"
--Do you see yourself as condescending?
"No. I never talk down to people."
--But so often your lyrics talk about and dramatise feelings, often very intense emotions, implying that no one else has access to them.
"That's not saying that I don't have those feelings to the same extent as everybody else, that those feelings don't give me pleasure or pain to exactly the same extent. All I do is articulate them. It doesn't mean I don't feel. I think I feel very much the same. That's why people buy our records in the first place."
--That's what I was saying yesterday - your audience includes a lot of emotional cripples who need you to articulate for them their innermost hopes and dreads.
"If that makes them emotionally crippled then I am too. I can't articulate some things without people articulating in songs for me. People can't articulate what Shakespeare said without quoting Shakespeare chapter and verse. Not that I'm setting myself up against Shakespeare; I'm just saying that some things can only be articulated in Art. That's what Art is for."
--Maybe cripple is too strong. How about wounded? The Walking Wounded? People who are depressed...in an emotional state maybe?
"(laughs) you mean depressed, and I'm not going to rise to that. Your questions are outrageously loaded."
--That girl, you mentioned earlier, the love of your life. Was she beautiful?
--and was she cruel to you?
"No. And I thought we both agreed earlier that this was very well documented and old hat."
--Yes, but seeing as you mentioned it...do you think this experience in any way disabled you emotionally, turning you into a purely sexual rather than sensual creature?
"(sighs) You couldn't be more wrong."
--Eldritch, are you a slut?
"I used to be. It went along with everything else but not anymore."
--Does Patricia scare away the groupies?
"When I've been at promotional conventions people have been after me and she's put them off."
--What are they like, these girls?
"I don't know. I never get to see them. Patricia knows they're not good for me."
--What's with this Protective Momma routine? Can't you look after yourself?
"I'm just not strong enough to avoid doing the things that I would inevitably end up doing. I was brought up to believe you took whatever was going. I wasn't brought up to fend women off. I find the idea really strange."
--But you've been doing it for years...maybe not very well but...
"(laughs) Maybe it is a bit too late to learn. It's all too easy not to fend them off. And if one's in the touring mode one inevitably ends up treating them badly. 'That was this city, tomorrow's another, I've got an hour impress me...' I don't want to treat people like that. It's much easier to point Patricia at them. Her judgment is certainly better than mine. And she doesn't stop nice girls coming to talk to me...just the flesheaters."
--Do you miss the flesheaters?
"Having one's flesh eaten can on occasion be...all too tempting. Now stop this!"
--Sorry, my Sun mentality is showing.
"What was your next question going to be?"
--Do you still enjoy being in the music business, or would you rather do something more challenging?
"As I said earlier it's been a hard enough struggle as it is, doing what I do now. But it must be said, I'm not interested in what passes for modern music today; it's just one-dimensional and that one-dimensional aspect of it all horrifies me. I just take very little interest in it. That's why I don't compete with Rick Astley."
"For 'Rick Astley' you could substitute a million other names...and he's not harmless."
"I think insipid music is very dangerous. It's a narcotic for the nation as you very well know."
--So their taste in narcotics isn't the same as yours. Who are you to moralise!
"Hold on, now HOLD ON... I do not have a taste for narcotics. This is important. I don't even smoke dope! Now, what was your next question going to be?"
--Is your vocal style a fair representation of how you feel, or do you occasionally force it for the sake of the song?
"That's a very good question; I'm going to have to think about it. There are times when I know I'm going over the top and there's nothing I can do to stop myself, and where I know it's appropriate. It's not staged, I'm acting quite naturally...and those are the times you get to hear it. But I'm sure there are parts of me that stand back and watch... And in other areas, maybe in the movement of an eyebrow or an arm I will always acknowledge the ludicrousness, but there's nothing I can do about it."
--How do you react to criticisms that your music is pompous, melodramatic and facile?
"All popular music is all of these things. I think it's important to acknowledge that there's an element of that in everybody's music. If I'm the only one to acknowledge it now and again I don't think that makes me an idiot...the medium generally has facets which are pompous and facile. I think the fact that I acknowledge it makes my music more trustworthy and complex. I know it's paradoxical. I know there's an irony there but sooner or later the English public will have to face it. It's part and parcel of my music."
Eldritch pauses. He looks grim and determined. I bite back a scream; in expectation of his anger the steady build-up of caffeine inside me pops and blisters. I arrived - a mere journalist. I will leave as Mount Vesuvius.
Eldritch grins, then yawns, grinding his fist into his eyes. Be they wrong turnings into red-light districts, scraps with sin and prisms or fantastic voyages along tidal waves screaming about sex and culpability, Eldritch's best adventures will always be with music. Only then can he hope to stretch the delicious trick of his wit, that whine of pain and drive.
"It's not easy you know," he purrs and suddenly, "Don't think it is."
('Face it, and you will have a place to stay.'-"Driven Like The Snow")
ANN SCANLON on the trials and tribulations of filming the latest SISTERS OF MERCY video in Jordan.
Imagine a split second collision between Cecil B DeMille and Our man in Havana, cross it with heat, action and two raven-haired characters clad entirely in white- and you have the basis for the latest Sisters Of Mercy video.
After the success of last year's 'This Corrosion', The Sisters were determined to produce an equally epic piece of promo for their 'Dominion' followup. they enlisted the services of Limelight Films producer Alan Whitaker and American director David Hogan and spent months searching for an appropriate location.
"We didn't want to make another video with fast cuts and groovy edits, we wanted to make more of a little film," says WEA art director Jason Beck. "We wanted 'Dominion' to build into a crescendo in the same way the song does."
They eventually hit upon the ancient city of Petra, in Jordan, and resigned themselves to two days of sandstorms, sunburn and wild horses.
"We had to do it there", says Patricia Morrison. "It's one of those timeless, magical places that is almost alive."
Although one of only three women in the cast, Morrison was far from the token female, or silent Sister. Indeed, with the help of a shotgun and the boot of a Mercedes Benz she manages to dispose Eldritch and ends up wielding the power herself.
"That was a dream come true!" she laughs. "Everybody keeps going, Patricia, did you do that? But actually it was Andrew'sa idea."
The Sisters' two day sojourn included two new experiences for Eldritch, namely sunburn and a trial runon horseback.
"I think the high point for Andrew was getting on a horse," Patricia says "He'd never been on one before, so it was a big deal, especially since those horses were real frisky little guys."
For Patricia, her worst moment involved four wheels and a steep gradient.
"I don't drive gear," she explains "and so the scariest thing in the whole video was driving the Mercedes. I was doing OK until a donkey ran in front of me as I was going up a hill and we started to roll backwards. I almost got two goats too, but they jumped over the cliff in time."
"The horse? No problem. The gear car? I was petrified!"
And what's all this about camels?
"The one story I didn't tell you!" she smiles "We were offered 100 camels for one of our women. All I could say was, it's a good job they didn't offer it to Andrew. And he said; You're righ, 100 camels is worth a lot, Patricia."
Halluciente's The Sisters Of Mercy Website - Interviews
("Shrink Rap" was a regular Maker feature in which the subject free-associated upon words and phrases tossed at him/her by an MM writer.)
Those allergic to cats should undoubtedly be burned at the stake. What more can I say? Either you find cats the most sublime creatures imaginable (with the probable exception of Joanna Lumley), or the best part of you as slid down your mother's leg, to put it mildly.
A shame, in many ways, if the only thing that gives life meaning is the total absence of anything above, below, or at either end, because I wouldn't mind reappearing as a panther, or such like. It has been suggested that I was formerly an Inquisitor, but it would be unwise to listen to those who now walk quite so strangely...
I am a practicing Anglo-Saxon.
THE FIVE-DAY TEST MATCH
Essentially a religious art form, some sort of connection with the folk subconscious, for reasons which are obvious to the wise, perfectly and appropriately obscure to the benighted. My own inability to wield a cricket bat is of course irrelevant, largely a function of terror and by no means an impediment to the appreciation of the game.
THE ONE-NIGHT STAND
Largely a function of terror.
ONE THING I WISH I'D WRITTEN
"East Coker", in my humble and rarely voiced opinion, the finest of Eliot's "Four Quartets", which are head and shoulders above anything else written this century.
I have been known to instigate the odd reprisal when I thought it in the public good, but I think I prefer vindication, which has to be sweeter because of its passive nature. Much more graceful, much more dignified. I do have faith in the ability of history to judge, but it must be said that history as it lies before us looks kind of finite, and it is tempting to lend it a hand now and again, doubly vain though that may be.
Did you know that they will not sell me Marlboro cigarettes in Canada? You can't find them anywhere. Mr. Marlboro apparently refuses to have any French written on his cigarette packets, so the French Canadians refuse to stock them. I've bought Marlboro in almost every country in the world, written in German, Arabic and even Chinese, but never French. I believe such practices should be encouraged and that Mr. Marlboro should be acknowledged as the man of taste and refinement he most certainly is.
The place was far more astonishing than you can ever imagine from the ("Dominion") video. Vista opens onto vista. It really is a metropolis.
THE CURSE OF ELDRITCH
Largely a function of terror. If I can live with it, so shall you.
Did God reach down and pluck a rib from Andrew Eldritch to create Patricia Morrision, his perfect partner in crime? Steve Sutherland talks to the Mother Superior of the Sisters Of mercy to discover their fatal attraction. Pics: Tom Sheehan.
Patricia Morrison laughs as I hold the door open for her.
"Just like Andrew," she says. Such a gentleman. You must have gone to a good school too."
Patricia is the goddess of goth, the queen Eldritch ha chosen to share his dominion and she is about to be the Sisters' ambassador for the first time ever free of his scrutiny. It's a responsibility she relishes.
"Andrew told me something once which I think is so true. He said I have nothing to prove."
How did you meet?
"I was in The Gun Club and we did one of our many British tours. The Sisters were the support act and we met, hit it off and just became friends."
You kept in touch?
"Yeah...we didn't have to though. It was one of those things... we didn't speak for months but, when we did, it seemed very natural. He'd call me out of the blue to ask me a question about something I'd knw about."
When did you find yourself becoming secreted into the Sisters?
"Two years ago. The day they fell apart, he called me and said 'Will you do it?' and I said yes."
Were you still with The Gun Club?
"No, which is very amusing because, even in Melody Maker, Jeffrey was going on saying 'Andrew stole my Patricia' and all that. I was out of The Gun Club for a year before I started working with Andrew."
Was it your choice to leave The Gun Club?
"Yes, that was BIG my choice!"
What's the difference between the two?
"Ah! Both groups have enormous egos in them but one knows what they're doing and the other one doesn't have a clue and can't figure out why things just won't go the way he wants. Oh, it's completely different. It's respect. If Andrew has respect for someone, it means something. The other one just didn't know how to do that at all. Talk about opposite people!"
Where The Gun Club your first band?
"No. I was into Iggy, New York Dolls, Bowie and soem friends and I decided to have a go at being a band. Kim Fowley wanted me in The Runaways but he told me I had to leave the people I was working with - he was quite a tactless person."
God, I bet you're pissed off you missed that opportunity.
"Oh yeah, really! My first band was a punk band in LA called The Bags. We had a single out on Danger House which put out the X stuff so, I mean, we were right in there. It started off as a joke and just sorta got outta hand - I quit when they informed me they were gonna be a serious dance band. Then I spent a long time trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I was in a couple of other things - an all girl band The Castrations, just for the hell of it, I never played with them - they played - but who cares, it was just such as good idea."
"There wasn't anything I really wanted to do unitl i heard Gun Club. I heard the songs and just went 'Yeah'. What they're doing now - I finally heard their new album - I think it's very good but I don't think it has anything to do with why i joined Gun Club or what we were doing. It has to do with the band. When I was in it, I know how we played togetehr but you don't get that impression now. You get teh impression that everyone went in and played their parts and that was it whereas, sometimes with us, it was on the edge, falling off half the time. There was something there."
What did you do in the year between The Gun Club and the Sisters?
Kid Congo from Gun Club and I decided to start a band which ended up with him thinking it weas the best thing in the world while I thought it was the worst. That's the only thing I've done that I can't even rationalise. It was called Fur Bible.
I saw you! You toured with the Banshees. Severin was a big fan.
"Well, I was nto happy but I'm one of those people who, if I have bills, I will pay them and we owed a lot of money. We had some tours set up so i waited until that was cleared, then left."
I bet it appealed to him so strongly. I bet Eldritch gorged himself on the utter peversity of going from the archetypal goth band on the road to being just him and you.
"Of course, it was a challange - y'know, 'Can we do it, just the two of us?' I'm very happy it's under the name, The Sisters Of Mercy.
That was important to him wasn't it?
"No! It was important to keep the name untarnished but not to use it. I would have been happy to work under the titel Andrew Eldritch. It was one of the many parallels between us because, when I quit The bags, they decided to be in that movie, 'The Decline Of Western Civilisation'. They didn't use the name The Bags, though, because I wouldn't let them. If you've seen that film, you'll know why - it's horrifying and, whatever we were, we weren't that and I did not want to be associated with it, I was offered money - a lot of money - but I wouldn't do it. I don't know why - you just don't want to be pulled down with it I guess."
Your name never appears on the "Floodland" album does it?
"No. If you look at Sisters' records, the name for what people play usually aren't there. Andrew writes the songs so there's no reason for anyone else to be featured. I was well aware of that when the album came out but what I didn't realise was that it would confuse other people. If people haven't seen the press we've done, they don't know I'm in the band. We get very complimentary letter - 'Who's that beautiful girl?' - which isn't quite the reaction we wanted!"
But obviously it was a brilliant move on Andrew's part to get somebody as glamourous as yourself involved. That must have been part of it, surely.
"No! it wouldn't have been on his mind at all Steve! Ha! No, the images has worked very well but that's just what people know at the moment, I think deeper and stronger things will come through."
One thing that you have in common is that you're both exiles - he lives in hamburg, you in London. Wouldn't you live together?
"We both though, one day, that we wanna buy a house in San Francisco as a summer home. I love that city but I will not go back to LA under any circumstances."
"Living there, it's dead, very, very dead. It's very narrow-minded there. You wouldn't think ti is - southern California and all that - but as long as you're doing what they're doing, that's fine. But look at me. It's a very lonely place, very plastic. I'm just not happy there, it's very empty."
"So I've just landed here and i still haven't figured out where I'm going. I won't go to Germany because I don't speak German although Andrew insists that it doesn't matter. He speaks fluent German so how does he know that it doesn't matter?"
Most of them speak English don't they?
"Not in Hamburg. When I was tehre, I tried to buy bread and it was an ordeal. And if you actually want to have a converssation with someone and get past 'You like a drink' then you can't."
"Everything you turn on is in a different language. I could do it, I could learn it but I can't care about it, i'm not entranced with Hamburg like he is. But I'm glad he's there - he's thriving, very happy."
Does - or did - his reputation and the fact that it might reflect upon you, inhibit you in any way?
"I wasn't as aware of it in the beginning as I am now beacuse, knowing him on a brother and sister basis, I didn't know how the fans felt and that really ddi hit me like a ton of bricks. I wasn't worried about my position but I was waiting to see what happened and it's great. I was expecting letters that said something like 'The Sisters used to be great' but we haven't got that at all. The Sisters fans - fanatical and religious as they are - have been great. They've been saying things like 'I didn't think it could be better than "First And Last And Always" but "Floodland" is."
"It is something to live up to, of course, but that's what I wanted and he obviously felt I was capable of it or else I wouldn't be in this position."
Isn't there a complete dicotomy between Andrew's notion of a band as an organised corporation and what he writes about - collapse and decay?
"Oh yes, taht's the way he lives! It's not just the business!"
Everything is so carefully schemed...
"Oh, we love to do that..."
Yet what he writes is complete chaos.
"But in a very controlled way."
Do you feel, at present, that you have to submerge your ego into the Sisters' corporate being or that you're perhaps just a component of the Eldritch myth?
"Well, hopefully I'll become part of it but not submerged. I'm not standing behind Andrew, I'm standing next to him and I'm supporting him in that way. There's no problem with my position in this band except there's a big problem with perceiving that there's a problem which is why you're asking about it."
"I have had people saying 'Doesn't Andrew let you talk?' which is nonsense. I mean, when I talked to him this morning, I said 'Guess who I'm talking to today?' and of course, i got that nice little evil laugh of his."
It's probably just another string to his bow that we sit around discussing him?
"Yeah! Ha! He is difficult and hard to work with in a way but that's what I wanted, I was so tried of doing it just for the sake of doing it. I mean, I have learned so much and yet, I was in the same situation before, went through the same thing, and learned nothing. He's given me enough responsibility bet...if I f*** up!"
He gives you grief?
I was talking to some people who worked for the record company in New York who loathed him. they said they had him over to do press and he spent the whole time screaming at everybody.
"Ah, he doesn't like Americans so he gives them grief."
He likes you.
"Yeah, that's the hole in the theory isn't it? Uh...my mother's from Ireland and my father's from Sicily so I'm sort of a mutt. And, if he hadn't done it, I probably would have. I mean, I can be much more tactful. Andrew has no time for tact. He doesn't mince words."
Some people consider him an actor...
"Do they? Oh, he's definitely not. Anyone who's had personal contact with him in any way wouldn't say that because you can see by his eyes that this man is not acting - he believes in what he says and does."
You feel you're very much like Eldritch don't you?
"Yeah, I think we've gotten a lot alike because we've sort of rubbed off on each other. Our attitudes - we end up at the same point. If we started out together in any situation and wanted to get from A to B, we would take completely different ways btu we would both end up at the same B. Neither of us might even see why the other one took the way they did nro understand how we ended up at that spot."
How much do you empathise with what Andrew and his songs are about?
"I agree with "Floodland" completely. It's a very personal album for me also. The older stuff - I don't agree with all of it, of course not. I mean, I'm a miserable failure at one night stands so I don't like "Some Kind Of Stranger" for that reason. It depends... but "Floodland", yes, because there's quite a bit of me in there one way and another, I don't feel like I'm doing someone else's music."
And the single's about you isnt' it?
"Yeah. It's called "Lucretia" for quite a few reasons. Of course, there's Lucretia Borgia - I think Andrew thinks there's a lot in common there."
"Yeah. If you're gonna do what she did, just be really evil, at least she did it on such a grand scale that you can't really fault it."
You like her style?
"Yeah, and the lyrics speak for themselves. it has a bit to do with my life and my situation, which is pretty much what Andrew's is - you know, the personal aspect of it. It's pretty obvious to me but it's surprising how many people don't see it or, if they hear that it is about me, they think 'Oh, it must a love song. He wrote a love song for her!' It's not that."
How would you describe Lucretia the person.
"Someone who does not give up."
"No, not at all. There's a kind heart beating behind it all."
Please! She was a murderess!
"There is! If you think of the rasons why Lucretia did those things, I'm sure she thought it was really a nice thing to do."
It must be flattering, having a song written about you.
"Yes, becuse of what type of a song it is which is not a love song. It's more, to me. I've had people write song to me before and, any time someone writes a love song for you, you don't end up listening to it thinking 'Oh, isnt' that nice'. It turns sour, turns bad. But this is something else - 'We got the kingdom, we got they key'. And it came at a time when I needed that - y'know, 'Yeah! Yeah!' Andrew has said it'a gloating song and it is a way, it's really funny. The remix is really over the top. I liked it when I first heard it and I still do. But "1959" is my favourite song."
People, of course, assume you're lovers.
"Right, and no matter what we say, they're gonna put down what they want to believe and what looks good and sounds good anyway. I've found that, no matter how many times we're not togethter, nobody seems to believe us."
Isn't that kind of enjoyable in a way though? Isn't it just another dimension to the mystique Andrew painstakingly constructs?
"Of Course. I'm not bothered, though I fear the day the press actually, for some reason, comes after me because they can be very vicious, I hate that. When i see what they do to people, I think it should be illegal. In America they'd be sued 10,000 times over. The photographs that they get climbing a tree - y'know, the picture of Princess Margaret or whoever in a bathing suit, that shouldn't be allowed. I find those papers frightening."
And an affront to your dignity. You're a rare thing these days, The Sisters Of Mercy - pop with dignity.
"Yeah, I have a problem. People say 'Who do you listen to that's modern' and the only person I can ever think of that I really respect is Prince. The only person that I would like poeple to think means anything to me is Prince. When I first saw his new album cover, it was 'Oh! OH! Look at THIS!' I mean, there's no words for that album cover is there? Nothing I can think of can even come close. I can't wait to show it to Andrew. I don't think I'll ever recover."
Prince looks better now his hair's grown again doesn't he?
"Oh yeahm, I was thinking that."
Is it, in some ways, a disadvantage to be so good-looking because people don't tend to take you seriously?
You, not Prince. If you were an ugly bass player, they'd say 'Oh, she's the bass player' but, because you're beautiful...
"Well, it is difficult when you know people think you're the bit and we've had that trouble. But Andrew doesn't think that so that's what counts."
People love beautiful women but resent it when they're successful don't they? They figrue you only got where you got through you looks.
"I have had to work 10 times harder than any man to do anyting, to get where I am. I would notice in Gun Club, playing live, i would get men coming up to me saying 'I never thought I'd say this to a women but I thought you were great tonight'."
"You could tell they'd never done anything like that. But to get to taht point, I would have to do it so much more then any man would. I know that - and women say 'There is no difference, there is double standard' go along with it."
"They sleep with who they want and they get where they want and that's one way of doing it. But that's not my methods. That's not my cup of poison and I don't want any part of it."
Why didn't you tell Andrew that it looked like he had had been cut out, enlarged and stuck back on his shoulders on the cover of "Dominion"?
"Ha! Why don't you tell him. I wish somebody else would!"
The "Sisters of Mercy" were formed in mid 1980 by Andrew Taylor (AKA: Eldritch) and Gary Marx. This Leeds based band took ifs name from a song by Leonard Cohen and their main influences being namely sixties trash songs, heavy metal, seventies glitter rock and a passionate love of the American experimental punk band "Suicide".
The main aim of frontman Andrew was to carry on where "Suicide" had left off in the late seventies. Taylor, being a drummer, had been in various bands based around the "F.Club" in Leeds during the late punk era in 1979 and 1980 and whilst studying at the local university there was never a shortage of musicians to work with. But after meeting, then working with Gary Marx, both could tell that something had gelled and it was time for Andy to move from drums to being the band's vocalist. The drum position now falling to the newly recruited "Doktor Avalanche", who was in fact a rythmn box with a fixation for Gary Glitter. With the line up now complete, the band started to take shape and in their basement rehearsal room the ideas were being put into action. The fruits of this original conception was their first (and only existing early recording) single, "Darnage Done", backed by "Watch" and the five second long "Home of the Hitmen" (MR007), released as a seven inch single only, complete with picture sleeve in
February 1981 one thousand copies were pressed on the bands own label "Merciful Release". Wanting to continue the project further and knowing they had something special on their hands the next step up was live dates and the recruitment of a bass guitarist. Craig Adams joined the Sisters in early 1981 after leaving his previous Leeds band "The Expelairs". The line up now complete for future live and studio work, all time was being spent in rehearsals strengthening the band into a solid live unit.
It was during this time prior to their live debut that the band recorded their first demotape to circulate in the hope of obtaining gigs and hopefully provoking interest in any management or distribution deals. The four track tape contained early versions of "Floorshow/Lights/Teachers/Adrenochrome" and future owners of said item included such influential people as lggy Pop, Alan Vega and the Psychedelic Fürs. The Sisters of Mercy's first live appearance was at York University on the fourth of May 1981, supporting, of all people, the then experimental, Thompson Twins!! It's well known that they then started playing regularly in the Leeds area during the summer of 1981, one highlight was at the Leeds Warehouse on the second of July when lggy Pop and his band arrived at the club to check out the local nightlife, (including that night the Sisters live on stage) after he had played earlier that night at Leeds University, what the man himself thought of the Sisters version of "1969" goes
unrecorded! During these months the band picked up some local interest, their first fanzine interview was done in August for the Leeds based magazine "Whippings and Apologies", and they even got to grace the lower reaches of the big Leeds "Futurama 3" festival in September.
Between October 81 and early 82 there is very little information available on the band's whereabouts, though no doubt finishing courses at university had something to do with this. What we do know though is that during early 1982 although all was quiet on the live front, in the studio and in rehearsals new songs "Kiss The Carpet", "Alice", "Body Electric", "Valentine" and "Anaconda" were all starting to take shape during this period. The cream of these new songs were recorded in Leeds and released as a "one off" single on the C.N.T. (Confederacion Nacional De Traba Jo.) label (based in Leeds) in April '82. Again only available as a seven inch single with a picture sieeve, "Body Electric/Adrenochrome" (CNT002), "broke" the band with the music press and public, getting numerous plays on the John Peel show on Radio One and even getting "Single of the Week" Award in Melody Maker. Also around this time the first "Sisters of Mercy" T-shirts started to appear being sold at gigs and through "Priestleys" mail
order in Leeds, the design being the classic "Sisters" logo with "1982" printed across the bottom. The logo for those of you who don't know is a medical textbook drawing of the autopsy cutting lines on a human head. "Body Electric" had certainly started the ball rolling, the band next clinched a distribution deal with Red Rhino (The Cartel) for all "Merciful Release" product and decided to bolster up the live onslaught by recruiting to the fold young local lad Benjamin Matthews (aka Ben Gunn) as a second guitarist. Also making their first trip to London in July where they supported "The Birthday Party" at "The Zigzag Club" in London.
Returning to London's Maida Vale Studios a month later the band recorded their first session for John Peel's Radio One Show. The session broadcast on the seventh of September featured the bands first work with the new boy Gunn. "Alice/Floorshow/1969/Good Things" were the songs recorded and brought the Sisters over to a new audience up and down the country in radioland, a John Peel session being a great boost to any new band yet to tour the UK.
From here on more gigs in Leeds and support dates with Nico and the Psychedelic Furs followed. The "Furs" being a great help with guitarist John Ashton taking a great interest in the band and working with them in the studio, producing with Andrew, sessions for the next single. And November saw the results of those recording sessions, the groups third single "Alice/Floorshow", yet again available only as a seven inch single with picture sleeve (MR015) it secured more John Peel airplay and interested the music press enough to secure interviews with the band on their forthcoming trip to London.
December saw the Sisters on the front cover of "Sounds", a half page interview in the "New Musical Express" and successful shows at the Clarendon, Venue and the Lyceum Ballroom All Day Show on Boxing Day. A following in London was steadily growing since the Sisters and March Violets Merciful Release Showcase gig at the Clarendon in October and now the Sisters had firmly established themselves amongst the Gothic Bauhaus fans as an act to be seen when in the capital.
A productive year finished and their name and unique sound established, 1983 beckoned.
Starting the year with a few local northern dates to try out some new material before returning to the studio to put the finishing touches to the new single. "Anaconda/Phantom" (MR019) hit the shops in early March followed by dates up and down the country culminating in April with a prestigious support slot on the first UK Tour by American Band "The Gun Club", who at the time featured a young female bass player by the name of Patricia Morrison, for Andrew Eldritch, this was the start of a beautifui friendship. The last date of the tour was at the Lyceum in London and in Eldritch's opinion it was the best show the Sisters of Mercy every played. Also in April, more Sisters vinyl was to appear unexpectedly. The posthumous release of the John Ashton/Andrew Eldritch produced "Alice" four track 12" E.P. chose to be a strange choice especially in the UK and the original "Alice" 7" version had been out for almost six months to the day!
Of the four tracks (Alice/Floorshow/Phantom/1969) only "1969" was a new track as far as the public were concerned and a lot of people couldn't understand the point of the release as the other tracks were still available on previous releases. Basically the "Alice" 12" E.P. (MR021) was only originally intended for release to the American market. Financed by the Psychedelic Furs and released in America on the "Braineater" label it was a fine introduction to the band. However "Import" copies started to arrive in Britain and to counteract the sale of overpriced copies "Merciful Release" decided to release it in the UK to anybody who wanted it.
Yet again in April, radio listeners heard the broadcast of the bands second session for Radio One. This time for the David Jensen Evening Show they used it to show a different side to the group. The tracks "Heartland/Jolene/Burn/Valentine" highlighted the Sisters live set at the time and also gave a taster to the up and coming "Reptile House" project. One of the best things about this session is that it features the only Studio take (in circulation) of the Sisters version of Dolly Parton's "Jolene" which was to be dropped from their live set at the end of June as it was getting just a little too popular, the same fate befell "1969" which was also dropped from the live set in March. In fact cover versions started to prove something of a hinderance as a lot of people started to shout out for them even when the band were only five minutes into the set!
With "Jolene" and "1969" dropped and the Rolling Stones "Gimme Shelter" being used as the classic end of set song, the search was on for new cover versions to add to the live set. "Emma" by Hot Chocolate found itself being subjected to the Sisters treatment along with a revamped encore medley of heavy metal overdrive featuring "Sister Ray/Louie, Louie" and Suicide's "Ghostrider".
But what was being considered, (whether these got past the planning stage or not) were "Don't Sleep in the Subway", "I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten" by Dusty Springfield and "It's Over" by Roy Orbison and no doubt many other sixties trash songs.
What was hinted at in the Jensen session, the slower direction of some of the new songs featured in the live set were showcased in the classic "Reptile House" 12" E.P. (MR023) released in May. This five track offering was released as a twelve inch single only, with early copies containing an insert sheet of songwords. According to Eldritch these were the band's most political songs to date, a brave move considering the sort of material featured on previous releases. To promote the E.P. the Sisters played up and down the country during July and August including two headlining shows in London.
A handful of shows in Europe were arranged including their first outdoor show at the Mallmunt Festival in Brussels, before the Sisters, courtesy of "Braineater", flew off to America for the first time. Starting in September with a five date mini tour, taking in two nights at New York's "Danceteria", and returning at the end of October for two further dates, one in Los Angeles, the other in San Francisco, also fitting in the all important radio interview on "W.N.Y.U." New York's "Music View" programme. Though at last getting a buzz on their Stateside appearances, all was not well in the Sisters camp. With "personal differences" being cited, Ben Gunn had decided it was the end of the road and had decided to leave the band. His departure after the October American dates left the band without a guitarist on the eve of a new single release and an imminent UK tour to promote it.
"Temple of Love", a song played live only a handful of times on the Autumn European tour and US dates, was a hell for leather number reminisent of the bands earlier output, complete in the opposite direction from the "Reptile House" E.P. released as a seven (MR027) and twelve (MRX027) inch single, both complete with picture sleeves, with the seven inch B-side being "Heartland" and the bonus extra track on the twelve inch version being the stage fave "Gimme Shelter" written by the Rolling Stones, the twelve inch also boasting an extended version of the A-side. The single sold well, but without Ben it was decided to scrap the forthcoming tour and return to the studios to work on new material, and the all important questto find a new guitarist. 1984 began with the arrival of Wayne Hussey fresh down from Liverpool after a stint with Pete Burns in "Dead or Alive" and serving his apprenticeship with "Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls". Studio rehearsals started straight away with the new member eager
to contribute ideas to the band.
And after a couple of months of heavy rehearsing, the excellent news that the band had secured a major distribution deal with W.E.A., and a period of final mixing for the forthcoming single at "Strawberry Studios" in Stockport the worid debut of the new Sisters line up was finally on the horizon.
On the 7th of April at the "Tin Can" (Aka "Fantasy") Club in Birmingham the new look Sisters took the stage to a full house of Sisters fans starved of live action (in England) for the past eight months. Not too many new tracks tonight, but as well as Wayne's debut it was also a launch for "Walk Away", "Body And Soul", "Train" and the unleashing of a new, and short lived, cover version, this time being Abba's "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme (A Man After Midnight)"!!! With the new line up settling down and working together well live and in the studio the Sisters were about to embark on almost a year of constant live dates. Starting with their third trip to America to do six shows in mid-April, these dates were very important to the band and a return interview was arranged on the "Music View" radio programme whilst the band were in New York. In fact New York proved to be helpful in a major factor in the bands image on stage. This time around they were to discover the joys of using a smoke machine for the first time
around at their "Danceteria" show, the last time the band were in the States in October was when Andy purchased his famous black hat!! With the new stage set and light show now running to compliment the bands new, dare l say it, gothic image, five weeks of major touring in the UK, Belgium, Germany and Holland was set up. Before retuming back to the UK the same week as the new single was released.
On the 8th of June the Sisters first release through W.E.A. appeared. "Body and Soul/Train" (MR029), co-written by the new boy Hussey, received good coverage and peaked in the national chart at No.46. The twelve inch version (MR029T) contained two extra tracks, a re-recorded version of "Body Electric" (this time recorded on 24 track rather than the original version done on 8 track) and the superb "After Hours", a song worthy of inclusion on a film soundtrack, "A Pure Amphetamine Song" was how Eldritch described it in an hour long Canadian radio special also broadcast around this time.
For the single to reach the lower end of the chart was very good considering the promotional video made by W.E.A. wasn't even shown in this country, only making appearances on Dutch and German cable TV, the Dutch giving it some heavy rotation. The tour now finished and it was straight into Stockport's "Strawberry Studios" to commence work on the forthcoming album, stopping only to fit in recording of their second John Peel session for Radio One at London's Maida Vale Studios. The cuts this time being "Walk Away", "Poison Door", "No Time To Cry" and at last "Emma". The first three tracks were rough versions of the songs the band were working on in the Studio during the album sessions with producer Dave Allen assisting Eldritch at the helm, "Walk Away" at this time still retaining the original lyrics and "No Time to Cry" was still a very skeletal version compared with the later released album track. With the main outline of the album completed it was time for a quick break, the band flying off to
America again during the second week of October to play two nights in New York!!
A week and many rock'n'roll excesses later the Sisters were back in "Genetic" Studios in Berkshire putting the final touches to the "First and Last and Always" album. With time being tight on meeting the finishing schedule (the album was due for release during the third week of October) and with the combination of illness, amphetamine and the heavy studio mixing responsibilities, Andy collapsed in the studio and was admitted to hospital suffering from exhaustion.
In a rock'n'roll band like the Sisters you never even had the time to die, let alone become hospitalized, and within three weeks the band were off to Germany to do two outdoor festivals at Ahlen and Lorelei before returning home to play third on the bill at the first Rock Festival at York Racecourse, a day of wind, rain and technical problems that the band would sooner forget.
On Monday the eighth of October three of the finished tracks from the album sessions were to be released to the ever growing legion of Sisters fans. Full page adverts in all the music press heralded the return of the boys in black with the "Walk Away/Poison Door" single (MR033), "On the Wire" being the bonus track on the twelve inch single (MR033T).
W.E.A. were pulling out all the stops this time, full page adverts and interviews in the music press, interviews on local radio, a classic promotional video filmed during rehearsals for the forthcorning tour and at last a typical record company marketing ploy, the limited edition one sided flexidisc of a seven and a half minute long "Amphetamix" of "Long Train" (SAM218). This soon to be collectors item came with the first five thousand copies of the twelve inch single, each one being shrinkwrapped and stickered to promote the fact.
The single was the Sisters most successful moment charting the first week of release and going as high as number forty five in the national charts. The promotional video also helped make the bands debut on English TV with a showing on the Channel Four rockshow "The Tube". All this was great news to the band who were about to embark on their biggest English tour yet.
The "Black October" tour started in Edinburgh on the fourth of October and took them on twenty three dates around the UK, taking in the Lyceum Ballroom in London on Halloween night and having over five hundred ticketless people turned away from the sold out show. New songs from the forthcoming album also received an airing on the tour, featuring the live debut of "Marian", "No Time To Cry", "A Rock And A Hard Place" and a cover version of Bob Dylan's classic "Knockin' on Heaven's Door". "Some Kind Of Stranger" also appeared on the early dates but was soon dropped for reasons unknown.
With the European leg of the tour starting up three days after the end of the UK dates, a further eleven dates were played in Germany before they retumed to "Genetic" Studios to complete the final mix on the album. With the songwriting vaults all but emptied of new material during the sessions, two new songs "Blood Money" and "Bury Me Deep" were written and produced to use for the B-side of the next single.
After an Xmas break, with the band returning to Leeds and Andy flying off to Rome for a well earned rest, it was into 1985 with some final mixing back at Genetic Studios, the presenting to the record company the finished tapes, and checking on the artwork and promotional details for the album.
A jump forward to March and the release of the second single taster for the album on the first day of the month, "No Time to Cry/Blood Money" (MR035), plus the extra "Bury Me Deep" on the twelve inch (MR035T). Complete with full page ad's in the music papers and the now obligatory promotional video, the single didn't fare too well peaking at number sixty three in the B.M.R.B. charts. The casual Sisters fan was quite prepared to wait a further week until the eleventh and spend his/her money on the "First and Last and Always" album (MR337L), early copies coming complete with gatefold sleeve and inner bag. The usual press circus rolled into town, the Sisters had always been slated by the press as the drugged and drunken bastard sons of Led Zeppelin, not that they were that far from the truth since Hussey joined the band, however everbody wanted their double page spread and the scathing tongue of Eldritch was happy to oblige and with the album selling well regardless of the usual critical press
reviews, it was tour time again.
Using Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" as an intro tape and with more smoke than your average forest fire, the Sisters stormed the homeland with a seventeen date tour to promote the album and at last the music press fell in on the joke with some of the bands best live reviews following Melody Maker's Steve Sutherland summing them up perfectiy as "a glorious addiction". With a sell out tour and the band rising to huge cult status in England, unfortunately bad news was to break with original member Gary Marx stating that this was to be his last tour and he was going to leave the band. "Personal differences" again being the reason for the departure and Gary's last concert with the band was at the Top Rank in Brighton on Monday the first of April, a great show culminating with Gary standing atop the speaker stacks and hurling his feedbacking guitar down onto the stage to the crowd's delight after a rip roaring version of "Sister Ray".
Though this being Gary's last concert it was not his last performance with the Sisters, that was to take place the following day at the BBC TV "Whistle Test" Studios where the band played two numbers, "First and Last and Always" and "Marian", on the live broadcast of the "Whistle Test" Rock Show.
With Gary gone the band had only a week to get themselves together to undertake a twenty five date tour of Europe, including their first concerts in Italy. With Wayne covering all guitar parts and the effects pedals taking a right battering his echo swamped skeletal guitar did the job superbly, in fact most people probably never knew that there was anybody missing. Don't believe all that crap in "Record Collector" about the band using backing tapes, Wayne's excellent guitar work and the bands excellent soundcrew filled the gap superbly. Fitting in Radio and TV Interviews in Belgium and Germany the Sisters sped across the continents on their "Trans Europe Excess" trip pulling large crowds and making new friends throughout.
Returning to England during the third week of May it was just a week and a half of rest before flying back to the States for their fifth series of dates starting in Long Beach, California and taking in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit before finishing on the seventh of June at New York 's prestigious "Ritz Club" before the towns assembled trendies who were eager to check out the latest cult offering from England.
In the bands absence, a concert at the "Royal Albert Hall" in Londons Kensington was being advertised for the eighteenth of June, billed as "Altamont - A Festival of Remembrance" it was also being stated in the music press that it was going to be Gary Marx's final show before leaving the band!! To the majority of fans it seemed like a classic show was on the cards, unknowing of the fact that Gary had left two and a half months ago!
In fact the show was to be the Sisters final show of 1985 before taking a break and retuming to the studio to start work on the second album with a slightly altered band line up. The Royal Albert Hall show was to be captured for posterity by a professional film crew from Polygram Music under the direction of top producer Mike Mansfield, third time lucky as far as the Sisters Management were concemed after the previous abortive attempts at releasing an official live video.
In the event of all the build up, the show proved to be nothing special, a two thirds full hall saw the band go through basically the same set as on the last tour, no real surprises, bar a version of "Fix", which they had started to play on the European tour in any case. The Sisters usual high quality perforrnance over, the audience got the expected encore and the band left the stage after a storming version of "Train". For the audience though, this was not enough, they refused to leave the arena and after ten minutes of non stop applause and foot stamping the band made an unplanned second encore of "Ghostrider"/"Louie, Louie", unplanned we assumed because five minutes ago the camera crew and soundman from Polygram who were near where we were standing had packed up and left!!
Versions of events that happened next are pretty hazy. To start with, before Gary Marx's departure the band were working on new material that had been written over the last six months and the next stage of the Sisters career was to start with a shift in the line up with Wayne moving onto synthesizer and Gary taking all guitar parts. Apart from personal differences with Andrew it could've been Gary's loathing of synthesisers and keyboards (always his reason for originally disliking the Eldritch produced, and Merciful Release labelmates, "Salvation") that made him leave the band.
After the Royal Albert Hall Show the three went off to America to film a promotional video for "Black Planet" with Eldritch getting to drive the original monkeemobile whilst Wayne and Craig slept in the back, it seemed to sum up the state of the band perfectiy at that time.
Craig then retumed to Leeds, whilst Andrew and Wayne went to Hamburg for three weeks to write material for the next album, provisionally titled "Left on Mission and Revenge". They returned with Wayne's material being rejected by Andrew and what Andrew had done only being a rough skeketal framework.
However they started rehearsals for the new album along the lines of remaining a three piece and not replacing Gary, but using additional musicians should the need for live shows arise. It seems that they were to become more of a studio than live band.
During the rehearsals Andrew still refused to work on any of Wayne's songs and both Wayne and Craig could see that the album Andrew wanted to make was totally different to the one they wanted to make. The Eldritch material was much slower, lighter and more commercial sounding compared to bis previous output. Wayne and Craigs ideas were more in the Rock'n'Roll vein and they wanted to stick to their guns, so in the current climate they could no longer work as a unit with Andrew.
Craig decided he'd had enough and got up and walked out of rehearsals, a day later Wayne followed. This time it was final.
What followed, was in some ways, a race for each member to get a new band back in the publics eye first.
Gary formed "Ghostdance", with Anne-Marie from "Skeletal Family", using the songs he was working on as Sisters material before he left the band.
Wayne and Craig formed "The Sisterhood", (later to be re-named "The Mission" after the 'Curse of Eldritch' struck), using songs that had been written for, and rejected by, the Sisters "Serpents Kiss", "Garden of Delight", "Dance on Glass" and others that were worked on since he joined the band.
Andrew used the material that he wrote for the second Sisters album on the Sisterhood's "Gift" album using guest vocalists Alan Vega and James Ray.
Despite the split Wayne and Andrew did work together again before the slagging match over the use of "The Sisterhood" name, they came on as special guests for the encore at one of the last "Skeletal Family" shows at the Markethalle in Hamburg on the twenty first of September (1985), Wayne joining the band for a quick run through of the "Batman" theme, before Andrew appeared to sing duel vocals with Anne-Marie on "Knocking on Heaven's Door".
The end of an Era?
The "Sisters of Mercy" were, without doubt, one of the most influential British bands of the eighties. This brief history is far from complete. Any details that have been missed or need correcting please contact the author through the Spiral Scratch address. Maybe an update can be made in a future issue if enough factual information can be collected.
"The Sisters of Mercy" Mk 2, 1986-1989 Discography, etc., will follow in a future issue in mid 1989. [That never happened]