The Reptile House on Betty Street

Sunday, 2 December 2018

(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. Eldritch had suggested them for the tour, no doubt because they were a brilliant amalgam of Suicide, The Stooges and The Gun Club.

On Saturday 16th March, they played The Refectory of Leeds University.

The Scientists’ bass player Boris Sudojvic recalls that, “We didn’t interact much with The Sisters, but they were good to us. They said we could stay at their place when we played at Leeds.”

There was in fact no “their place.” There was no communal Sisters’ house. The Sisters would take a ride in the Monkeemobile for their “Black Planet” video later in the year, but they did not live like The Monkees. Eldritch and Marx had once shared 7 Village Place in the Burley area of Leeds, but Marx had moved out to live in Wakefield with his girlfriend. Hussey lived in Ashville Grove also in Burley, Adams in Elizabeth Street, close by in Hyde Park.

It was Adams’ house on “Betty Street” The Scientists found themselves in. 

Adams shared it with Jez Webb, a Sisters’ roadie and Steve Watson - known to some as Stevie Sex Pistol and others as Winker - who had driven for The Sisters’ and would soon start 3,000 Revs with Paul “Grape” Gregory and Adam Pearson.

“We had a few drinks and Craig showed some of his videos of Leeds United fan violence that he’d recorded,” recalls The Scientists’ guitarist, Tony Thewlis.

“Leanne (Cowie, The Scientists’ tour manager and later drummer) had an actual room to herself, but she had to climb over piles of furniture and equipment to get to the door. The rest of us (including The Scientists’ singer Kim Salmon) slept on the living room floor.”  

The notoriously thrifty Scientists had accepted the offer of a free night’s accommodation minus one piece of information. “What they forgot to tell us,” remembers Sudojvic, “was that they had a pet snake.”

The snake was quartered, like The Scientists, in the living room. It was a rat snake belonging to Watson and usually resided in a glass tank. “They assured us it was safe,” says Thewlis, “and being winter, was semi-hibernating and had hardly moved from its curled-up position for months.”

“They didn’t have enough blankets for all of us so we had to have the heating – was it a gas fire? - on all night. I remember finally dozing off and a few hours later waking up and being alarmed to see that, thanks no doubt to the sudden warmness of the room, the snake was moving about.” 

“I woke up the others, worried that it might get out of its tank, but Boris was confident that the glass lid was too heavy for it to push it off. Eventually we got back to sleep only for me to then roll onto an electric plug which dug into my neck”

“I went from being horizontal on the floor to being up on the windowsill in about 0.0000001 seconds.”

Thewlis had got off lightly. Adams remembers that the snake was a menace to him, Webb, Watson and any visitors to Betty Street. “That snake, man! We would all be stoned and then someone would realise the snake was out. It was fast and mean and bit you if you did not get up the stairs sharpish.”

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Comments

Amanda Blackburn
Amanda Blackburn says:

Was this snake an inspiration for "Anaconda"?

December 04, 2018

Mark Andrews
Mark Andrews says:

Not that I'm aware of. I think Eldritch was imagining something bigger and more deadly (and more metaphorical) than this snake.

December 04, 2018

Neil Piper
Neil Piper says:

It has been generally accepted that the lyrics and song were about heroin addiction, and words of caution to the user in this case a woman. The sleeve is adapted from the Alice Cooper album "Billion Dollar Babies"

December 15, 2018

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