Paint My Name In Black And Gold

By Mark Andrews

Paint My Name In Black And Gold is the story of the first five years of The Sisters of Mercy.

Biography | Music
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Writing in progress

Publication date: TBC

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In that time The Sisters rose from being local heroes in Leeds, to one of the premier alternative bands in the UK and Europe, before blowing apart on the verge of major rock stardom. Their path was strewn with brilliant singles, exceptional EPs, extraordinary album tracks and legendary live shows. At their peak, The Sisters were all bang and no whimper.

Throughout their ascent The Sisters remained steadfastly a Leeds band. Paint My Name In Black And Gold is therefore a portrait of a band, but also a portrait of a city. Leeds was, in the words of Craig Adams, “a shithole, but it was ours.” Amid the violence and decay, it had one of the most extraordinarily vibrant post-punk scenes in Britain. Out of that swamp crawled The Sisters of Mercy. “And what a fine, fetid swamp it was” Andrew Eldritch once noted.

They began in 1980, maybe even earlier in some nameless protozoic form, and meandered through two years of intermittent gigging, iffy recordings and sundry line-up changes without much attention being paid to them before finding their two classic line-ups: Eldritch on vocals, Adams on bass, Gary Marx and Ben Gunn - and later Wayne Hussey - on guitars, and a drum machine called Doktor Avalanche.

By force of will and their own peculiar talents – and with the support of friends and the kindness of strangers – these young men achieved greatness. Hussey and Adams – The Evil Children, as they termed themselves – were hard living road dogs with fascinating musical back-stories. Neither Gunn nor Marx were natural rock’n’roll animals, but the latter performed with such abandon – often in such lurid shirts – that it was hard to believe he also wrote The Sisters’ most delicate and beautiful music. Eldritch was the most peculiar and compelling of them all, a singular and mesmerising amalgam of TS Eliot and David Bowie. In the five years covered in this book, Eldritch staked a powerful claim to be the greatest rock star of his generation.

In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Eldritch would go on to have chart hits and play stadia with new line-ups and with new kinds of fantastic Sisters music. None of this is in Paint My Name In Black And Gold. However, the book does contain an Epilogue that covers the toxic aftermath of the band’s split. A nascent “This Corrosion” and Werner Herzog have walk-on parts at this point.

Paint My Name In Black and Gold is therefore the story of how The Sisters of Mercy – against the odds and all reasonable expectation - came to make transcendent and life-changing music. Yet it is also about the glorious stupidity of being in a Leeds rock band. There’s a lot of dry ice, blood, vomit, speed and sex in the toilets of The Leeds Warehouse. There are also tales involving a milk float, a VHS cassette of a Michael Caine film, a hibernating snake, a wardrobe in a tree, an amyl nitrate-soaked effects pedal and the inopportune consumption of Dutch hash cake.

This is the most complete band biography of The Sisters of Mercy yet. Its full working title is Paint My Name In Black And Gold: Leeds and the Rise of The Sisters of Mercy. It builds upon my two long articles on The Sisters for The Quietus and is based on over 50 original interviews and more than two years of research.

Paint My Name In Black and Gold is the early history of the greatest British band of my lifetime.

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  • Mark Andrews avatar

    Mark Andrews

    Mark Andrews is not from Leeds. He has never lived, worked, studied or been in a band there.

    He is from Warwickshire and now lives in Belgium.

    He has written for the Middle East Times, Egypt Magazine, LeftLion, Flanders Today, The Quietus and Louder.

    The first musician he ever interviewed was Lemmy - for the Folkestone Gazette on Monday 6 October, 2003. Most recently, he has interviewed Jon Spencer, Boss Hog, Mudhoney and The Scientists.

    Over the years, he has also written about Egyptian heavy metal, Michel Houellebecq, punk clubs in The Westhoek, the Cairo Film Festival, new wave and garage rock festivals in Flanders, Edgar Wright and an exhibition of Belgian album covers. He has also been the film critic for Bangkok Metro. He has reviewed restaurants and written about casinos, shooting clubs and hotels.

    He now only writes about music.

  • The following is slightly adapted from the article “Shine Like Thunder: The First Golden Age of The Sisters of Mercy” that appeared in The Quietus in August 2017

    On April 23, 1983 - The Sisters of Mercy played a gig in in the sports hall of the Technical College in Peterborough, a town, then as now, rarely visited by travelling rock bands. These unlikely environs witnessed the band at their live peak, an encapsulation of what was special, even odd, about them.

    Firstly, there was the austerity of the visual presentation: no smoke, minimal light show, no drummer, not much backline, just four men virtually in a row. Left to right: Gary Marx, the lead guitar player; Andrew Eldritch the singer; Craig Adams the bass player; Ben Gunn, the second guitarist.

    The key dialectic was stage right: Marx, tall and broad-shouldered, winkle-picker held together by gaffer tape charging around slashing at his guitar and Eldritch in shades, a riot of black leather, svelte and sinuous, wafting his cigarette around, manipulating his mic stand and twitching his crotch.

    “In terms of what I brought to the party,” Marx recalls. “Most obviously I wasn’t Andrew.”

    Adams and Gunn and a Roland TR-606 drum machine, christened like all its predecessors Doktor Avalanche, held things down while the Marx/Eldritch dichotomy ran rampant.

    Marx refers to it as him playing “Dave Hill to his Alvin Stardust in some weird Glam era mash-up. Or Rob Davis to his Les Gray gives some idea of the incongruity of us as a pairing.”

    Marx’s analogies give a sense of how far Eldritch was prepared to push his stage act into the ridiculous, but not how sexy it was. Eldritch was both Billy Fury and his own Larry Parnes. He had gone deep into the homoerotic, past the Ramones street hustler look all the way into Warholian fetish and Scorpio Rising. This failed to make Eldritch a gay icon, but it was industrial grade catnip for some straight women.

    Adams, still only 20, was the most accomplished – in fact the only – musician in the band, but chose to play his bass in the most brutal way possible, aping Michael Davis and Lemmy. Adams was key to The Sisters’ sound. Eldritch was impressed by how “Adams just naturally took to fuzz bass, which is an instrument and attitude all of its own. And he was bloody good at it.”

    As later line-ups would prove, Sisters’ songs could easily be played by one guitarist. That The Sisters used two meant that their sound could either feel deconstructed or be in lock step, a wall of distorted sound. The second guitarist, Ben Gunn – the band’s virtually motionless Hank Marvin - although “living on crumbs”, as Marx puts it, was vital. “History will show,” says Marx, “that he’s there on the best records and all those fantastic gigs. While not exactly being central he was certainly crucial. In much the same way that my chief contribution was not being Andrew, Ben was not any of us.”

    Also, as Marx admits, “of course, we were five in total. As dumb as it sounds, the drum machine was a massive part of the band’s personality.” The Doktor in his 606 incarnation was both cutting edge and primitive. It took a lot of effort, Eldritch remembers for him “to sound other than pip pip pop ... like anything other than Soft Cell. It’s great for them but we didn’t want that type of landscape.” To make the Doktor “solid and smacky” live and “to get some wallop in”, he was DI’ed (direct injected) into the PA, not via one of The Sisters' crummy amps.

    The Doktor could not play anything complicated, even if his programmer wanted him to. And the programmer did not. As much as Eldritch loved bands that obviously had brilliant drummers – Ian Paice, Simon King, Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor, John Bonham – it was Mike Leander’s Glitterbeat to which Eldritch was most in thrall. Thus, The Doktor (was) operated in the realm of the genius dum-dum boy and girl drummers like Nick Knox, Tommy Ramone, Moe Tucker, Phil Rudd, Scott Asheton and whatever Martin Rev had rigged up to make drum noises in Suicide.

    The overall effect was unrelenting. The band played each song with the same guitars, through the same couple of pedals; The Doktor couldn’t change tempo mid-song, sometimes just playing the same pattern ad infinitum; Eldritch sang in a less-than-two octave range and Adams kept as close to the root notes of chords as possible.

    The cumulative effect could be extraordinary.

    The four men on stage were the central but not the only component of The Sisters set-up in 1983. Also part of what Marx calls “the inner circle” were the roadies Daniel Mass and Jez Webb, the driver Steve Watson, the über-fans Dave Beer and Ali Cooke, and Claire Shearsby, who as well as being Eldritch’s girlfriend of long-standing, had “assumed the role of engineer.” Marx recalls that “at first she would mostly concentrate on dealing with Andrew’s voice and timing delays for the space-echo on different numbers. She then grew in confidence and muscled in on the desk because more often than not the in-house engineer would be killing us.”

    Like many of the 1983 shows, the one in Peterborough began in extremely bold fashion with ‘Kiss The Carpet’, one of their very slowest and sparsest songs. Pushing the already austere aesthetic even further tested the nerve of the band.

    “It was an edgy way to start,” recalls Marx. “I often looked across at Ben who seemed a bit unsure how to behave when he was doing so little.”

    There were also practical reasons.

    “It certainly made good sense to introduce elements one by one,” Marx continues, “to leave plenty of time and space to sort out technical problems. It gave me a little time to feel my way in. I can hardly overstate the fact I was often playing stuff that was tricky for me to do sitting down and concentrating, never mind when I was revved up and trying to throw a shape or two.”

    Nor did The Sisters shy away from other slower, then unreleased, songs in their repertoire like ‘Valentine’, ‘Heartland’ and ‘Burn’, but the bulk of the set in Peterborough was full throttle, riff-heavy and more familiar: ‘Alice’, ‘Anaconda’, ‘Body Electric’, ‘Adrenochrome’, ‘Floorshow’.

    As well as closing with ‘Sister Ray’, there were other excellent cover versions: ‘Jolene’ and ‘Gimme Shelter’.

    In Peterborough, The Sisters skipped their version of Hot Chocolate’s ‘Emma’ – the usual centrepiece of their show - and ‘Lights’, another slow-burner. ‘Damage Done’ and ‘Watch’, from their very first - and very bad - first single, and The Stooges’ ‘1969’ had already been dropped from their set by this point.

    Later in the year they would add ‘Temple Of Love’ and work ‘Louie Louie’ and Suicide’s ‘Ghost Rider’ into a final encore medley with ‘Sister Ray’.

    And that was everything they had in their live arsenal during their first golden year: the twelve months between the releases of “Alice” and “Temple of Love”.

    20 songs only.

    They played 12 of them in Peterborough.

    The “inner circle” was a full of fun but, like a street-gang, it also carried with it more than a whiff of aggression. Marx explains: “Some of it was territorial, as the Yorkshire-based following took over a venue. Equally, there were aspects of the band’s personalities that could be the trigger for it. Craig in particular had a very short fuse.”

    Hi-jinks and violence were in evidence in rapid succession during ‘Floorshow’ in Peterborough.

    “There was a throwback punk kid stood in the front of Andrew,” recalls Marx, “who had some connection with a local band on the bill and had the big spiked hair and The Exploited or some such stencilled on his leather jacket.”

    The punk was staring too intently or mouthed something or spat – the exact infraction had been forgotten - but as Adams began the opening heavy Motörhead-like chords of ‘Floorshow’ the punk attempted to climb up on to the stage.

    Adams let go of his instrument, rushed forward and kicked him in the face. As the punk scurried off the stage, Adams carried on with ‘Floorshow’. Justice had been swift: Adams had only missed out one bar.

    While Adams was still guarding the front of the stage and eyeballing the locals, Beer and Cooke ran on stage and shoved custard pies – paper plates full of shaving foam – onto the heads of Marx and Gunn. “I think they were going to do Craig and Andrew as well,” recalls Marx, “but sensed they weren’t exactly in the mood.”

    “The gig had a definite mood shift,” Marx recalls. “Craig played out of his skin for the rest of the show. Something clicked for Andrew as well.”

    For Marx too. Always the boisterous performer, he ended the show sprawled on his back having slipped over in the remnants of the shaving foam.

    The show was recorded on VHS video from a balcony at the rear of the sports hall. So too was its aftermath. The camera kept running as the DJ played a King Sunny Adé track.

    “The punk throwback returned with his nose splattered,” remembers Marx. “He had obviously rallied all these mates of his from the area.”

    After initially loitering back stage The Sisters and their inner circle soon had enough and decided to bring things to a head. “The camera recorded us all coming out for the showdown,” says Marx.

    This included Shearsby, instantly recognisable by her peroxide blonde hair. “Physically she could handle herself; she’d been a PE teacher,” states Adams. “She could have smacked any of us out easily.”

    The Peterborough punks huffed and puffed a bit but ultimately turned and ran,” remembers Marx.

    “We did look kind of magnificent. I use the word advisedly because it was more like those Samurai or Western films. Shot from above with all of us walking through the frame at some point: Steve, Claire, Danny, Andrew, Dave and Ali, and Craig of course - all these special people.”

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  • Mark Andrews has written 11 private updates. You can pledge to get access to them all.

    21st March 2019 MEET THE AUTHOR: Two Events with Rare Music

    Talk about a niche, within a niche ... some of you within striking distance of Brussels or Leeds might be interested in these.

    "MEET THE AUTHOR". Paint My Name In Black and Gold" Crowdfunding Events.

     

    EVENT ONE: 18.00 - 19.30 (CET) at Bar Des Amis, Tervuren 3080, Belgium. 27 APRIL 2019

    We will play the nine-and-a-half instrumental, 4-track home demos that Wayne Hussey made for a proposed…

    2nd December 2018 The Reptile House on Betty Street

    (To commemorate reaching 25%, the first crowdfunding milestone, here is my favourite Sisters-related anecdote unearthed so far. It may be too tangential and trvial to make it into the final book, but I think it's worth telling.)

    In March 1985, The Sisters of Mercy began the British leg of a three-month-long tour to promote “First and Last and Always”. The support act for those dates was The Scientists…

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  • Aaron Quinton
    Aaron Quinton asked:

    As I pledged for Write Your Name High ... and as my four year old son, represents the earliest of the next generation that loves the Sisters, would you be okay with in the front my name appears, but in the back it reads “Aaron Quinton & Noah Quinton”? His favorite songs are Crash and Burn, Doctor Jeep and Lucretia My Reflection. He calls Lucretia the “dance the ghost song”. ;)

    Mark Andrews
    Mark Andrews replied:

    Just checking with the publisher ... my kids are 7 and like 'Hey Now Now", "Mundane By Day", "Alice In Her Party Dress" and "No Time To Cry".

    Neil Perry
    Neil Perry asked:

    Hi, I pledged on the wrong reward - I meant to choose Names Are Just For Souvenirs but clicked on Maybe It's A Way Too Long instead, and managed to go through payment without noticing - is it possible to change it?

    Unbound
    Unbound replied:

    No problem Neil - you can upgrade your pledge to the reward you'd prefer. Just head here for more info on how to do this: http://help.unbound.com/unbound-for-readers/managing-your-subscriptions/how-do-i-upgrade-my-level-of-support. I hope this helps! Unbound Support.

    Neil Perry
    Neil Perry asked:

    Hi, thanks for the reply, but that doesn't work. The pledge I want to change to is the same value as the one I originally made, so that doesn't seem to be included as an 'upgrade'. I just want to change one for another. Can I cancel and start the whole process again?

    Unbound
    Unbound replied:

    No problem Neil, I've changed this over for you so you're now down for the Names Are Just For Souvenirs reward level and you'll be able to check this over in your account (unbound.com/account). Apologies, I hadn't realised the levels were both the same price! Please do let us know if we can help with anything else. Unbound Support

    Geoffrey Rabe
    Geoffrey Rabe asked:

    Hi - Does the White Rose Babylon pledge level include ‘special playlist curated by the author’; and if it does not, is it possible to add just that item to White Rose Babylon? Thanks for answering, and thanks to Mark Andrews and Unbound! - Geoffrey Rabe

    Mark Andrews
    Mark Andrews replied:

    Good question. I don't see why not. Let me check with Unbound ...

    Aaron Quinton
    Aaron Quinton asked:

    I would like to donate more to help get this fully funded. Is there a way we can privately discuss this?

    Mark Andrews
    Mark Andrews replied:

    Hi Aaron, Message me/Friend request me on FB? Message me via Heartland, if you are a member? Best, Mark

    Chris Marsh
    Chris Marsh asked:

    I would also like to donate substantially more to get this funded having pledged very early on. I don’t do Facebook or MyHeartland, is there another way I can contact you or unbound to discuss this? Thanks

    Mark Andrews
    Mark Andrews replied:

    Do you Skype, Chris? Best, Mark

    Julian Bentley
    Julian Bentley asked:

    Hi Mark I enjoyed your articles for the Quietus. How's it going with the book? Julian

    Mark Andrews
    Mark Andrews replied:

    76%. Less than £4,000 needed. I think we'll get there ... Thanks for your pledge Julian. Best, Mark

    Julian Bentley
    Julian Bentley asked:

    I'm surprised (especially after seeing your Quietus pieces) that you didn't get to 100% ages ago. I see you seem to have had good FB coverage (I do a bit of promo work on it). I wonder if there is anything I can do to help spread the news? > is it possible for me to upgrade to the £75 pledge

    Mark Andrews
    Mark Andrews replied:

    Some people have upgraded. If it's not straightforward, post another Q and someone at Unbound will pick it up and explain. Best, Mark

    Chris Marsh
    Chris Marsh asked:

    Hi Mark, I don’t skype, I’m happy to email directly but I don’t want to post my address on a public forum. I’ve found a way to increase my donation, which I’ve done, but I’d like to speak to you directly as I’m prepared to donate more if we can find a way for me to hear the Hussey demoes without travelling to the Leeds or Brussels events. I’m happy for Unbound to release the email address associated with my account to you directly if that’s a way to start the conversation. Thanks, Chris

    Mark Andrews
    Mark Andrews replied:

    OK. I'll ask Unbound for it, Chris. Best, Mark

    Paul Hurd
    Paul Hurd asked:

    Hi Mark Will there be photographs and other images in the book? Good luck! Can't wait. cheers Paul

    Mark Andrews
    Mark Andrews replied:

    Hopefully. There is some money in the budget for photos. I would only be interested in using unseen or very rare and I'm not sure how far the budget will stretch. I do know a couple of folks who shot the band in this era and haven't ever released the photos. Best, Mark

    Paul Ruffley
    Paul Ruffley asked:

    Hello. I've already accidentally done 2 "Black December" for a total of £40. Can we combine them and add ten for a "White Rose Babylon" . Let me know if you can, thanks

    Unbound
    Unbound replied:

    Hi Paul, I've had a look and you've successfully upgraded to White Rose Babylon level, so it looks like you've sorted this now. If you need any more help with your pledge please contact us via support@unbound.com and we'll be happy to help. Unbound Support

    Julian Bentley
    Julian Bentley asked:

    Hi Mark how's the book going - got any updates for us?

    Mark Andrews
    Mark Andrews replied:

    Knee-deep in final interviews and transcribing at the moment. Most recent was Dave Allen. Frankly, I'm not looking forward to writing about the making of FALAA, although Dave was fantastically funny. The big update will be connected to a piece for The Quietus - I'll be unloading all my Sisters/Psychedelic Furs research: John Ashton, Duncan Kilburn, Les Mills, Howard Thompson and some choice comments from Gary. That's written and I'll be submitting over the summer. It's looking like 8,000 words. Then 7,000 words of footnotes to that will be posted here. In that vein ...If Paint My Name is 85,000, I think White Rose will be at least that again. Also currently negotiating with photographers: there are some amazing never published photos. Can a deal be done within budget? I hope so ... I've seen one more from the band's very first photo session. When I get these interviews taken care of, I'll post more ...

    Marc Berger
    Marc Berger asked:

    When I ordered the White Rose Babylon edition, I was under the impression it is a hardbound book - but when I read the new description - it only refers to it as a PDF? Can you confirm - as I want a hardbound edition and already paid heavy postage costs for it to ship to USA. Please confirm what the White Rose comes with....is it both a book and a PDF plus a playlist? And yes, please source some great pics for the book. Seeing many great ones online lately.....cheers, Marc

    Unbound
    Unbound replied:

    HI Marc, The White Rose Babylon level does include a signed hardback. It's mentioned at the end of the reward description, so apologies if this was confusing! Unbound Support