It’s June, 1999, or thereabouts. I’m sixteen years of age. I’m in a nightclub for the first, perhaps second time in my life. The nightclub is called Spiders, and it’s located on the edge of an industrial estate in Hull. The air as my friends and I queue up outside is foul with burnt cocoa fumes wafting from a neighbouring factory. The smell inside the club is worse.
For me, the Sisters of Mercy are one of THE goth bands, and it makes me chuckle inwardly when Eldritch, and Pete Murphy, try and distance themselves from a sound and an image they went to painstaking lengths to define and craft.
The Reptile House EP is a moody slab of uber-goth and is probably the crystallisation of Eldritch’s vision (the EP is allegedly pretty much an Eldritch solo work) and, being pre-Hussey, has no light side… in fact there is no glimmer of light in any of the 25 minutes – and it’s the better for it.
In 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.
The clues to The Sisters of Mercy’s imminent implosion were already in place: Ben Gunn’s departure in 1983 after the band’s first US tour, with the guitarist claiming that the band had become the very thing that they’d set out to parody; news of singer Andrew Eldritch’s hospitalisation after one too many nights on the mirror and rumours of the band barely talking to each other during the recording of their debut album. And then of course there was the title – First And Last And Always – compounded by the fact that the vinyl album’s two sides were more or less divided into Eldritch/Hussey and Eldritch/Marx compositions.