IT’S easy to take the piss out of Goths – well, it was until the fashionistas went all Gothic-luxe on us. I’m sure it must have absolutely horrified original Goths, bless ’em. They must be an awful lot happier (it’s all relative) now that whole look is so last season.
I’ve never really had a problem with Goths. None of it really interested me. I never saw the Sisters of Mercy live, or bought any of their records – but I always used to dance to Alice and Temple Of Love when they came on at ‘alternative discos’. They’re great records. So sue me. Okay, so there may have been the odd Bauhaus record in my collection too. And maybe the Danse Society as well.
Though I thought the whole look and philosophy was indicative of an innate narcissism and rather prissy conservatism when it appeared in the early Eighties, there was a lot of it about. It was the early Eighties. When you actually got talking to them, Goths were often gentle, kindly and timid souls who read books, wrote letters and wore eye-liner. So what if they danced like girls? They often were girls.
There was still a lot of it about when I moved over to Leeds a few years later and Leeds 6 seemed to be full of wan little kohl-eyed romantics in black lace with big, big hair. Being in such close proximity all the time – well, they started to get on my nerves a bit. I was quite angry, quite a lot of the time. I blame Thatcher. And the drugs.
I was writing for a local arts, culture and politics mag called Grunt at the time, so when a Sisters ‘convention’ was advertised at the Astoria towards the end of 1988, me and Dallas got up ridiculously early one Sunday morning and went over, fully intending to take the piss.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
* * *
IT’S about 10am on Sunday morning and it’s spitting with rain. In fact it’s a miserable bastard of a Sunday morning and Dallas and me are walking from his house in Woodhouse to the Astoria on Roundhay Road. It’s a long way and not a good start to the day.
We’re going to the last of three Sisters of Mercy conventions, two quid in, a big screen video, memorabilia, rarities, lookalike competitions and the promise of what is described, mysteriously, as “personal appearances by people connected to the band”.
The person who drove the Sistermobile? The band chiropodist? Or would the Big E himself turn up?
We finally arrive at the Astoria. Is it through here? We look into the big room and see women walking around in wedding dresses. A Patricia Morrison lookalike competition? Perhaps not.
We go around the corner and this looks a little more like it. A smoke machine blows out a miserably thin wisp of vapour, like it’s been at the Consulate rather than the Capstan Full Strength. Chickenshit disco lights blink on and off. Tacky.
We go through some double doors and we find ourselves confronted by a couple of hundred leather-jacketed punters milling around the bar and a number of stalls. A big screen blasts out a live video of Floorshow. We take a deep breath and dive into what someone will later call, with a healthy degree of irony, “the Gothic heart of the universe”.
At first it all seems like a glorified record fair. The usual slimeball stall holders sell the usual over-priced crap – rarities and bootlegs no real fan should be without. For instance, the original seven of Damage Done will set you back £65.
“Worth it though,” the amphibian behind the counter tells me.
Oh look. Barely able to conceal my excitement, I see a 12-inch US test pressing of This Corrosion.
“Sixty quid mate. It’s well rare.”
And people will buy it at that price?
“Yeah, it’s a good seller.”
So it’s not actually that rare then, is it?
We leave him to ponder the crushing, existential misery of life as a record dealer and go in search of idiotic fans to talk to.
Dallas spots Andrew Eldritch and Patricia Morrison! Shit!
Except, of course, it isn’t Andrew Eldritch and Patricia Morrison. But they look a heck of a lot like them. They’ll do.
Gary and Stephaney (“..N-E-Y, make sure you spell it right”) have travelled over from Hull. She’s 20 and training to be a hairdresser, he’s 23 and a “building preservation specialist .. a plasterer really,” he tells us, smiling.
Why are you here?
“Well, it’s the next best thing to going to a concert. They don’t do them anymore, and if they did it’d only be in big stadiums.”
It’s something we hear time and again through the day. They can’t see the Sisters live, so they come here instead. In poor old Gary and Stephaney’s case, it’s even worse, because they’ve never actually seen the band. Their disappointment is obvious.
I try to subtly steer the conversation around to the remarkable similarity between the pair of them and Andrew Eldritch and Patricia Morrison.
You look a lot like Andrew Eldritch and Patricia Morrison. Are you going to enter the lookalike contest?
Gary bursts out laughing.
“Dressing like this is .. pretentious anyway,” he explains. “Entering a lookalike contest would be just ridiculous.”
It’s difficult to take the piss when faced with such disarming and self-effacing honesty. These people aren’t the prancing posers we thought they would be. Dallas takes their picture and we go in search of wankers.
There seems to be a likely candidate sitting on the stairs. He wears mirrored sunglasses under a wide-brimmed black hat, around which he has tied a scarf with a rather fetching skull motif printed on it. He also sports a number of crucifixes of varying sizes and pointy boots with buckles on them.
Rod is a 28-year-old nurse. He and his friends Alison, John and Dave have all come over from Hull – which is obviously a city with a lot of Sisters of Mercy fans.
“I prefer the March Violets, actually,” announces John, who is roundly denounced by his friends for his candour. He is dragged off by a mob and lynched from the nearest lamp post.
“It’s better than working on a Sunday,” says newsagent Dave.
“We wanted to get some good bargains,” says Rod.
And did you find any?
“Yes,” he says proudly, showing us his prize. “The Armageddon Out-Takes. It’s a live album from Berlin on white vinyl. Cost me 65 quid.”
Bloody hell, is that how much everything costs here? Isn’t that a bit excessive? Y’know, for a record?
“It depends how far your devotion goes. It’s not excessive for me, but for the ordinary person in the street I suppose it would be.”
Devotion is the key word here. These people are relic hunters as much as they are music lovers.
Apart from having more money than sense, Rod and his friends are nice, pleasant people and we have a good laugh with them.
Balls. This isn’t going to plan at all.
The Merciful Release stall finally yields our first, and as it turns out, our last berk of the day – and he’s not even that bad, really.
Nick has worked for the Sisters label for two years and obviously loves every minute of it.
“See this phone here?” He points to a black, rather old fashioned telephone in a class cabinet. It has a card saying ‘On Loan from the band. Not for sale’ in front of it. “It’s from the Merciful Release office in London.”
Really? You’re not kidding, are you?
“When the office opened,” he tells us enthusiastically, “Andrew came in and said, ‘I want everything black’. That telephone was gloss red and I had to rub it down with wire wool before the paint would take and I could spray it. Took me ages.”
I begin to ask Nick why, if Eldritch wanted it black that much, he didn’t just buy a black phone in the first place but there doesn’t seem much point.
We pretend to be suitably impressed by the great man’s own manky leather jacket (“It’s a bit like the Turin Shroud, isn’t it?”) and the shiny bright platinum disc for First And Last And Always. It turns out they’re not for sale either.
So, I ask Nick, what does Eldritch think to all this stuff? All this memorabilia, these over-priced rarities and bootlegs?
“He was as enigmatic as ever,” he says, mysteriously.
Oh dear God.
“He told me, ‘I’m a hoarder, I collect things to do with the Sisters, but I can’t understand why other people want to do it’.”
Neither can I mate.
I tell Nick that I think I’ve just seen Doktor Avalanche, the Sisters’ drum machine, making a personal appearance, but it turned out to be a pile of bootleg videos. He looks at me like I’m stupid.
Encouraged by finding someone who could at last confirm some of our prejudices about Sisters of Mercy fans – that they have an unhealthy obsession with Andrew Eldritch for a start – we look for more dupes.
We spot a stereotypical Goth couple. Pointy boots, backcombed barnet, crucifixes, eyeliner and foundation slapped on with a trowel .. and that’s just the geezer.
Jackie and Carl have come up from Coventry. They tried to get to the London event but they got the date wrong and had to endure abuse, insults and intimidation on the dark streets of the capital instead.
What is it about the Sisters that inspires such devotion?
“They’re brilliant,” says Carl. “The first time I heard them I was hooked.”
“There’s nothing else like them,” adds Jackie.
Does it matter that they’re not really very fashionable these days?
“I don’t bother with fashion anymore,” says Carl with a straight face. It must have taken him at least a couple of hours to get ready this morning.
Aren’t you just another kind of fashion victim Carl?
“It’s an alternative, isn’t it?”
Would you call yourselves Goths?
“I would,” says Carl without any hesitation. “Goth and proud!”
Goth and proud. Brilliant.
I tell them what Eldritch himself thinks to all this stuff.
“He just does it because he enjoys it and we do it because we enjoy what he does,” says Jackie, and there’s no answer to that really.
Dallas takes some pictures of the couple and some of Carl’s excellent kick-ass pointy boots and we head for the bar.
We sit down and watch the hairstyles go by. My attention wanders to the video screen and there I see – foulest of sacrileges – Wayne Hussey and the Mission leaping around. No chairs are thrown at the screen, there is no bloodbath at the sight of someone I thought was regarded as the arch Goth-Traitor. No one seems that bothered.
The next video is the Sisters. And the next. I gradually begin to realise just how many Sisters of Mercy songs I actually like. This constant bombardment is getting to me.
I’m dragged from this rather disturbing train of thought by the sight and sound of a 10-legged backcombed whirlwind cutting a swathe through the Astoria. Five young women are laughing and shouting and larking around and generally spoiling the atmosphere of studied reverence and serious hero worship.
Vicky, Jill and Rachael (who will eventually go on to win the Patricia Morrison lookalike competition) come from Huddersfield and Helen and Kelly come from Halifax. They all attend sixth-form together.
“We all like the Sisters of Mercy,” Vicky tells us, clutching a bottle of Lowenbrau like her life depended on it. “And we’ve come to see the videos and everything. Andrew Eldritch has refused to tour so this is the closest we can get.”
These five young ladies are absolutely brilliant and utterly adorable. They snigger and yell and joke and squeal and shriek and make more noise than everyone else in the place put together.
What’s so brilliant about Andrew Eldritch?
“He’s gorgeous! He’s just really fit!”
What about Patricia Morrison?
“Yech! She’s a bitch!”
More gales of laughter.
They make me feel very old but I still wish they were my little sisters, each and every one of them.
We soon realise it’s going to be impossible to meet anyone who is as much fun as Vicky, Jill, Rachael, Helen and Kelly so we call it a day and do one.
I still don’t really understand why people seem to go absolutely ape-shit over the Sisters but good luck to them.
And hand me that hairspray.
[This feature first appeared in Grunt magazine in early 1989]