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The Sisters of Mercy


The Sisters of Mercy (1980-1985, 1987-present): a Gothic Rock band from Leeds, UK.


eaturing most of their hits as singles only, The Sisters Of Mercy (originally to be called simply "The Sisterhood" after a convent run by nuns, or (as is rumored) after a Leonard Cohen song about prostitutes) were formed in Leeds, England by Gary Marx (guitar/vocals) and Andrew Eldritch (Real Name: Andrew Taylor; vocals/keyboards/guitars/drum programming/drums) in 1980. With one guitar, a three-watt practice amp and no money, they recorded the single to hear ourselves on the radio on their own 'Merciful Release' label resulting in one thousand copies pressed. The resulting record got played on the radio and later, the record described by the band as "unobtainable and even more unlistenable", The Damage Done/Watch/Home Of The Hit-Men (1980), would later be worth hundreds of pounds - and in their own opinion, "it's still rubbish".

The following year, the band decided to start again, properly this time. Andrew Eldritch, by his own admission "a very bad drummer", becomes by default the band's lead singer as Gary Marx concentrated on guitar and Craig Adams was recruited on bass, and to assist the "bad drummer" and to set them crucially apart from their peers they were now anchored and driven by the legendary Doktor Avalanche (its a drum machine).

The band then made its live debut on February 16th, 1981 as something between The Stooges and Suicide, or Motorhead and Chrome. In an act of discovery, Marx connected his guitar to a record-player pre-amp to feed back uncontrollably, and Eldritch shifted the vocal echo into overdrive to create a kind of heavy metal dub without any spaces on a shuddering mechanoid backdrop. The first-ever set kicks off with a cover of Cohen's Teachers and ends with a juggernaut howl which might have been Silver Machine but was in fact Sister Ray. Towards the end of the year Ben Gunn is added as a second guitarist.

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Their second single, Body Electric/Adrenochrome, made Single Of The Week in Melody Maker. It would be almost three years before a 'Sisters single fails to become Record Of The Week somewhere. Unfortunately, the subsequent backlash would last forever. The Sisters Of Mercy eventually play London, and Tony James of Generation X asks Mr. Eldritch to join a band, an offer that was politely declined. A radio session for the BBC would foreshadow the next classic single and the 'Sisters tour Britain with the Psychedelic Furs (1982). November sees the release of Alice/Floorshow, with their now-familiar blend of persistent and irresistible melody coupled hypnotic techno riffing and a vicious seductive hooks.

The early months of 1983 were spent touring the country with an army of supporters. The set of 'Sisters standards was spiked with a selection of covers, including 'Gimme Shelter', Dolly Parton's Jolene and Hot Chocolate's Emma. A second radio session followed the release in March in the form of the single Anaconda/Phantom. The follow-up twelve-inch EP Alice is also the band's first American release. In May, The Sisters Of Mercy issue The Reptile House EP, some of the finest and most haunting of their songs mixed with cruelty. After their first dates on the European mainland, and before a short series of concerts in America (Ben Gunn's last), it is decided to spend the proceeds on the band's first trip to a 24-track studio with the guitars being multi-tracked until the money ran out. That October they released a three-song single, Temple Of Love. Backed with Heartland' and Gimme Shelter, it would become their last independently released record.

In April of the next year Wayne Hussey joins offering up acoustic and twelve-string guitars. Prior to a UK tour in May, the band signs to 'WEA' with Body And Soul/Train/Body Electric being re-recorded with Afterhours, a four-track single (described by Eldritch as "a vision of heaven with everyone on speed", narrowly misses the UK Top 40), and a third BBC session showcases some of the material which would later comprise the 'Sisters' first album. Demos are recorded and the band travel to New York in August to play two sell-out dates. Work on the LP is postponed due to Eldritch's exhaustion yet the band continues to play live, culminating in the Black October tour. The 'Sisters' European audience continues to grow, particularly in Germany and the UK. The Walk Away/Poison Door/On The Wire single is also finally released. There are, however, barely concealed tensions within the band. Many are tempted to read into the lyrics of Walk Away a public appeal to Gary Marx. Worries about Eldritch's exhaustion and his not-so-private leisure pursuits are fueled by the lyrics to On The Wire.

In 1985 another single, No Time To Cry/Blood Money/Bury Me Deep, is issued in February and the Tune In, Turn On, Burn Out tour opens in March. But just as their debut album proper First And Last And Always is being released, al album that is soon to go to top 20 UK, Gary Marx's departure is announced. For the album's part, it is widely considered flawed and scarred from a production point of view, the album was nonetheless regarded as a collection of classic songs.

The band then stages an end-of-tour concert in July at London's Royal Albert Hall; the resultant concert video was soon to be released under the title Wake. But in a surprise Eldritch, normally expected to leave the stage with his usual "Goodnight!" tonight, shouts "Goodbye". It would be five years before The Sisters Of Mercy play live again.

In 1986 Craig Adams and Wayne Hussey left the band; disagreements over material and touring were at issue, particularly those arising from Hussey's desire to launch a new act taking Adams with him. The split was initially amicable, but unsolved issues would come to haunt the remaining members later.

Their 'Merciful Release' issues the single Giving Ground and Gift, by 'The Sisterhoood. Written and produced by Andrew Eldritch, this material was performed for contractual reasons by associates, and was subsequently released independently.

By 1987 The Sisters Of Mercy was one of the most bootlegged bands of the decade. Eldritch had set up camp in Germany, and the English press pronounced him retired or dead. After the Gift (1987) single they should have known better. Ahead of its time, its dense soundscape conveyed some of the most important elements of the 'Sisters' psyche. Without losing sight of the original 'Sisters' vicious aesthetic, the album assimilated the advances in continental dance music, and developed them further. The layers of ersatz Elgar and chant added poignancy to the wit of the lyrics. Although tuneful, the songs were harnessed to a menacing synthesizeresizeresizeretic groove somewhere between the New York underground and the hardcore techno-beat of Brussels and Berlin. Eldritch was enjoying his newfound freedoms.

This Corrosion/Torch/Colors single (1987) would then be released by 'WEA'. The single enters the UK Top 10 and becomes the #1 Alternative Record in America, despite the lack of record company support. It is announced that Patricia Morrison has been recruited and that the band has no plans to enlarge further, a band now entering a phase of video-based promotion, a medium which they have traditionally scorned believing it to be violent and expensive. Nevertheless, on TV screens all over the planet the torrential rain of This Corrosion sets the pace. The second album, Floodland, is released in November. Floodland places the guitars of the first album against a backdrop of keyboards inspired by the experimentation of Gift. A fifth-generation Doktor Avalanche drives a body of songs that highlight Eldritch. The next year, another video follows set in the ancient Jordanian of Petra heralds Dominion/Emma which charts at number 13 in the UK Lucretia My Reflection/Long Train then provides the 'Sisters with their third chart single from the Floodland LP.

A compilation video (Shot) is issued, featuring the three singles from Floodland and an additional clip of 1959 that was filmed in India during the shooting of Lucretia My Reflection. Incidentally, 1959 is still the only 'Sisters video produced and directed by Andrew Eldritch.

The first order of business in 1990 was when guitarist Andreas Bruhn joined the band, while Tony James replaces the recently departed Patricia Morrisonguitarist Tim Bricheno completes the line-up, as the third LP Vision Thing is being finished for release in November. A single, More/You Could Be The One, which continues the band's international chart success, particularly in Germany, precedes it. Compared to its predecessor, Vision Thing is a more basic and stripped-down affair. Half of the finished mixes for the album were shelved in favor of rough mixes from earlier stages of the recording sessions, the so-called 'monitor mixes' to retain the immediate feel of the songs. The guitars are more direct than they were on Floodland with far less emphasis on the layering of sound that characterized the previous 'Sisters album. Keyboards are kept to a bare minimum, and Eldritch's vocals are clear amid the storm. The lyrics retain their usual sub-texts, but there is a new directness of language allowing no sign of victim on the Vision Thing. The band then plays surprise concerts in Ireland, and Doctor Jeep is released as a single, coupled with rare live tracks. Brazilian warm-up dates are followed by a European tour starring two nights at London's Wembley Arena.

The Sisters Of Mercy mark their tenth anniversary of their live debut with two shows for the members of The Reptile House (the 'Sisters' information service) in their birthplace of Leeds in 1991, followed by a tour of southern Europe. When You Don't See Me/Ribbons (live)/Something Fast (live) is then released as a single in Germany. A North American tour opens on March 25th in Ontario, Canada. The first concert sells out in two hours. Another trip to northern Europe follows in April and May, including Poland, Hungary and Germany. The band then returned to the US for an amphitheater tour with Warrior Soul, Gang Of Four and Public Enemy as opening acts. Despite the social advances claimed to have taken place in the USA., before this tour starts most promoters and the US media seem to have decided that a mixed-race event was a dangerous thing. Radio Music Hall in New York is sold out, but the authorities later in Detroit refuse to allow the concert to take place at all. Miami was more receptive, and the band seal their year with the European festival circuit, most particularly at Rock Am Ring and a headline appearance at the Reading Festival. Tony James then decides to move on.

In 1992 their compilation album of early material Some Girls Wander By Mistake is released (re-issued a year later as a "volume 1" with two extra tracks not seen on previous albums). A completely re-recorded Temple Of Love (featuring Ofra Haza) is released as an accompanying self-titled (1992) crashes into the UK chart at number 3, and becomes the 'Sisters' biggest international hit so far. The summer festivals in Germany were then followed by a sellout show at Birmingham's NEC. The final gig of the year is in front of thirty thousand Belgians at the Pukkelpop Festival, preceded by a warm-up show in the living room of a Reptile House member in Oberhausen while Bricheno and Bruhninitiate solo projects. The following year sees summer shows with Depeche Mode in Europe followed by the first Greatest Hits album A Slight Case Of Overbombing (1993). A single featuring new guitarist Adam Pearson Under The Gun/Alice (1993) is also released simultaneously with the album, and assumes a place in the top ten. The compilation video released in 1988 was then updated by the addition of the Vision Thing promos, and re-released as Shot Rev 2.0. The year ends with a tour of Germany, supported by Ramones, and three British shows in Brixton and Birmingham (at the NEC again). But in 1994 Eldritch engaged in a dispute with label 'East West' to leave 'WEA', it appears that since Vision Thing the band had been unhappy with the arrangement. Indeed, the dispute widens by the next year forcing Eldrich to simply go on strike and refuse to publish. On his own, Andrew Eldritch starts remixing industrial dance records and is rumored to be active in trance music. Adam, as usual, is also making soundtrack music. In 1996 guitarist Chris Sheehan joins up. Ravey Davey caught playing Nurse with the Doktoras The Sisters Of Mercy swing into another summer of festival appearances in Europe, indeed, in 1997 the act launch the Distance Over Time expedition. Headlining another five summer festivals and a fistful of hall dates with a return to the USA. for the first time since the tour with Public Enemy.

The hatchet is buried with 'East West' when the label buys the SSV album ending Eldritch's contract with them. Chris Sheehan then embarks on an extended sabbatical break with some friends from Down Under; Mike Varjak assumes his place in the first team. But by 1998, 'East West' are still intending to put out their SSV record and hyping it all to hell. To counteract all this stuff (which, as we know, the press is all too happy to run with), and to celebrate Mr. Eldritch's liberation, the 'Sisters decide to brave the snow and hit the road again. Only one promoter is found who is willing to risk a January tour but is rewarded when every date sells out before the tour even starts. The shows were highlighted by twelve Event Horizon dates through Europe, followed by six in North America, followed by a Summer'headlining festival dates. In the absence of the Verve, the 'Sisters headline Europe's biggest festival at Roskilde.

In the second half of 1999 the year saw the band featured only once, at a Portuguese festival and a month-long hall tour of North America dubbed To The Planet Edge.

January 2000 sees Chris Sheehan puts out a solo album of "bleak psycho country music", but he still manages to return to assist the 'Sisters'by the end of the summer. In 2001 after a fans-only anniversary night at the location of their first-ever gig, the 'Sisters launch a full-scale birthday tour through February and March, followed by festivals in Germany, Sweden and Belgium.

Chris Sheehan started compiling some of the band's filmed concert footage for a future DVD release in 2002, and the 'Sisters headline summer festivals in Germany, Switzerland and Belgium. Another major European tour followed in the spring under the current line-up of Andrew Eldritch (vocals), Adam Pearson (guitar/backing vocals), Chris Sheenhan (guitar/backing vocals), Doktor Avalanche (drums) and Nurse ("Nurse" to the Doktor). The band has not recorded an album since, but continues to exist.

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