Sisters of Mercy, “Emma”

13938_ae14In terms of cover versions, the Sisters (and we’re talking pre-Floodland era Sisters) have a rich history.   They were mainly played out live, they were always performed with tongue firmly in cheek, and they were never straight versions – they always had a dark twist.

On vinyl they committed 1969 (Stooges) and Gimme Shelter (Stones), while live they regularly rolled out Knocking on Heaven’s Door (Dylan), Sister Ray (VU)/Louie Louie (Kingsmen) [often glued together in a 10 minute jam at the end of a frantic set], Jolene (Dolly Parton), Ghostrider (Suicide) and Gimme Gimme Gimme a Man After Midnight (Abba).  And so it goes on – recent Sisters gigs have even seen Kylie tracks rolled out.

But the jewel in the cover crown, and certainly their most revered cover back in the mid-eighties (certainly amongst our motley clan), was their mammoth version of Emma, the Hot Chocolate classic.

And you can see why this track appealed to Eldritch, Hot Chocolate’s funk exterior hid a dark, depressing, suicidal core:

It was a cold and dark December night
When I opened up the bedroom door
To find her lying still and cold upon the bed
A love letter lying on the bedroom floor

The Sisters slowed the song down, added a grinding, relentless bass line and overlaid towering, arpeggiated guitars.  A classic was born.

After years as a live staple Emma was finally committed to vinyl by the Sisters Mk 2, released in January 1988 as the b-side of the 12″ of the Dominion single.  In true Sisters style, the genesis was difficult, but given the magnitude of this Sisters’ classic it was probably well deserved.  From Wikipedia: 

Producer Hugh Jones: “Most of the music for ‘Emma’ was recorded at The Church Studios in Crouch End, North London, with final overdubs and mixing done at Master Rock (horrible name!!) Studios in Kilburn. Patricia did technically play bass on the track, although there was a lot of sampling individual phrases, moving them around and inserting them where we wanted. Yes indeed, we did record the vocals at a live venue.

Andrew had attempted to record ‘Emma’ several times before but had never considered the result to be as good as when they played the song live. So we hired the Kilburn National Theatre and the Rolling Stones Mobile recording truck, played the track to Andrew through the stage monitors, and recorded a number of performances with him singing on the stage. There were lights, dry ice, everything to invoke the atmosphere of a live experience (other than an audience!) The final result is a compilation of a number of those vocal ‘takes’. Very indulgent, very eighties, particularly for a B-side!!”

Emma – 1988 version (Dominion b-side)

According to the Sisters Wiki Emma was first played live in April 1983 and it existed in our collections only on murky bootleg tapes and LPs.  But in in July 1984 they recorded it for a John Peel session and finally we had a decent version of it.

Emma – 1982 John Peel session version

It surfaced again in 1985 on the “Wake” video – the Sisters’ (Mk I) final gig at the Royal Albert Hall.

Emma – 1985 Wake live version

And here, in all its funking glory is the original.

Emma – Hot Chocolate original version

Enjoy Craig!

2 thoughts on “Sisters of Mercy, “Emma”

  1. Awesome! I used to have the Japanese laserdisc of ‘Wake’, back in 1990, and it was missing ‘Gimme Shelter’ and the encores. Have since picked up the dvd but it’s missing the same songs. Always thought Wayne did a great job on ‘Emma’ at the RAH show, playing whatever the song needed at the moment, either his regular parts or Marx’s parts. Sometimes less is more I guess. Wouldn’t want to hear it like this every time but it was nice to have this version. Definitely a pity that Gary Marx didn’t make this last gig as was…was it ‘rumoured’ or ‘promised’? Thanks for all the different versions, gonna dig in now! When the ‘Emma’ b-side finally turned up, was probably hoping against hope that it was a left-over from the ‘First & Last…’ sessions but…oh well. It was pretty cool to get those live 1985 tunes as b-sides on a 1988 single.

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