Ahen punk began to die out in Britain, a phase of reorientation began in which musicians took every possible liberty. Between the late 1970s and mid-1980s, a number of bands were formed that wanted nothing to do with standardized songwriting or three-chord snotiness and instead developed an interest in disco and noise, dub and funk, glam and krautrock. Prominent representatives include Public Image Ltd, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure and Magazine.
While Greater Manchester spawned groups like The Smiths and Joy Division, outshining many other cities, a small selection of captivating acts came from Leeds, think Soft Cell, Gang of Four, but most notably The Sisters of Mercy. The formation around Andrew Eldritch demonstrated again and again what a dysfunctional, not overly talented, but aesthetically determined bunch of music enthusiasts can achieve – and what misunderstandings arise from this.
Mark Andrews has written numerous articles about the early Sisters of Mercy, named after a song by Leonard Cohen, for the British pop culture magazine The Quietus, which are now available as a monograph, enriched with additional material. He interviewed all of the ensemble’s important companions and peppered his essay with quotations, of which even the most clichéd ones are at least entertaining. His focus is on the time between the band’s founding in 1980 and the bombast number “This Corrosion” released in 1987, which was almost ten minutes long and carried by a forty-strong choir. The author deals with what happened next in a manageable epilogue.
The toughest bastard of them all
On the one hand, that’s a pity, because it was only after the albums “First and Last and Always” (1985) and “Floodland” (1987) that the long-awaited success came – high chart positions, expensively produced videos, appearances on “Top of the Pops ‘ and concerts at London’s Wembley Arena. On the other hand, the really interesting things happened, the author is right about that, in the early phase of the initially quite bumpy local band. From 1987 onwards, the Sisters were just a kind of one-man project with changing backing musicians. Eldritch released his last new song in 1993 on the compilation “A Slight Case of Overbombing”. He never really seems to have recovered from a falling out with record company EastWest Records.
The classic Sisters line-up is as follows: Andrew Eldritch (vocals), Gary Marx (guitar), Craig Adams (bass), Ben Gunn and, from 1983 on, Wayne Hussey (second guitar), Doctor Avalanche (drum machine). Boyd Steemson, a troupe confidante, says of Eldritch that he “ought to have reached the status of David Byrne or Nick Cave.” Marx puts it similarly: “I don’t want to use the term ‘Renaissance man,’ but actually it seemed that Andrew wanted from the start to be a role in which he could use his various talents.” Eldritch speaks half a dozen languages, went to private school and was a listless student at Oxford. Steemson sums up his interests there as follows: “Bowie, cigarettes, Bowie, cigarettes, Iggy, cigarettes, Bowie.”
When Eldritch came to Leeds in 1978, he was quickly noticed as a meticulous intellectual. According to Marx, John Keenan, who started the F Club – a series of music events in different locations – in the city, once had to be dismembered by Eldritch for using the word “metaphysical” incorrectly. Max Hole, who worked for Warner Music in the UK in the 1980s, says: “Andrew was both the big plus and the big minus of the Sisters of Mercy.” It is also said that Hole has a photo of him years after his liaison with the Sisters Had Eldritch in the office. When people asked him about it, the response was, “It’s supposed to remind me of the most difficult bastard I’ve ever had to work with. No matter what I’m going through right now – as soon as I look at the photo I know again that nothing, absolutely nothing, can be as bad as what I experienced with him.”