Author:Mark Andrews / Trevor Ristrow
I came late to the Sisters of Mercy – just after their second lineup split following a concert in the Royal Albert Hall in June 1985 and the release earlier in the year of their first album – First and Last and Always. With no product for another 2 years (Floodland) or live appearance until Wembley Arena in 1990, all that there was to absorb from the band was the first album, previous singles, eps, bootleg live albums, one video from the RAH (Wake) and collections of old music press stories and reviews.
These two books are biographies of the band in those first 5 years from 1980, coincidentally both published last year. Although my quest for TSOM product has long been sated, and the story of Eldritch and co was quite familiar –
Ely>Cambridge>Leeds>multiple gigs/groupies/alcohol/speed/monomaniacal powercraziness>band collapse
I was intrigued by how the two authors would flesh out the story.
Both start well by choosing as Book titles song quotes the fans would know (Heartland/Valentine), and there’s a fair amount of reference in both books to the literary/linguistic wordplay that Eldritch liked and that drew me to the band.
Although covering the same time period, they use different sources for their texts. Andrews rigorously interviewed pretty much everyone associated with the band (even Eldritch himself at some point). Ristrow seems to draw from the sources he himself had gathered as a dedicated archivist of the band. I can only imagine both authors sitting at their desk/in front of a massive time line, piecing together quotes and stories from different sources to build a composite picture of key scenes in the band’s development – the alternative music clubs in Leeds where the band first formed, Wayne Hussey’s selection interview, the American tours, and of course the chaos that was the recording of the first album.
I read the Ristrow book first (on Kindle), which may have spoiled me. He is the genuine fanboy and tells his story with gusto and enthusiasm, starting with a sprawling but joy-filled anecdote about the first TSOM gig he attended in the States. There’s a real care in the way he puts together the story, and even though it’s familiar, it has good devices and little cliff-hangers that left me wanting to read the next chapter to find out what he meant with an enigmatic sign off of the previous chapter – quite an Eldritchian touch.
I had to wait till I was in the UK to pick up the Andrews book (hardback), and was looking forward to reading it more, the author’s articles in The Quietus are intelligent, probing and thoughtful, revealing the layers and complexities of Eldritch, other band members, their influences and interests. But for some reason, the book, impeccably referenced to interview sources for pretty much everything described, seemed factual, encyclopaedic, and rather archival. It was interesting to read about the reasons why some music studios had such a positive effect on the singles produced, and there’s a lot of content, but I found it a slog, waiting for the dramatic assessment, or critical overview, which never came. It was quite dispassionate, where the Ristrow book was in the moshpit with the touring fans.
Both books were clearly written with a lot of care and affection for the band, while spelling out the serious character traits that led them on the trajectory the band followed. What TSOM achieved in their first five years was remarkable, given the two starting members, Eldritch and Marx were not musicians, and had no experience of the music industry. The music they made, the whole imagery and stagecraft, and the following they drew made their collapse in 1985 a terrible what-if, but also a glorious explosion. Better a bang than a whimper. Both Andrews and Ristrow in their way captured this story well – thanks to them for their books.
Length of Read:Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed…
The Sisters of Mercy, obvs.
One thing you’ve learned
The Sisters really loved America – I think it made them the band they were