Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Sisters of Mercy
For the religious organisation of this name, see Sisters of Mercy.
The group has made only three original studio albums, of which the last was released in 1990. Currently, the band is kept alive as a touring outfit only. The only original member to survive the band's numerous lineup changes is singer and songwriter Andrew Eldritch (even Doktor Avalanche, the drum-machine, is not an original member). All other original members had left the group by 1985.
The band is one of the most popular and influential among the gothic rock scene, although since the 1990s they have tried to disassociate themselves from that scene.
1.1 Foundation (1980)
The band was formed in Leeds, England in 1980 by F-club regulars Gary Marx and Andrew Eldritch to satisfy their intent to hear themselves on the radio; somewhere in the process band t-shirts were made and a single, "Damage Done/Watch/Home of the Hit-men", was recorded and released.
The name was taken from a Leonard Cohen song of the same name ("because The Captains of Industry weren't as funny"), and was supposed to reflect the ambiguity of a rock'n'roll band - 'half saints, half prostitutes'.
On the single (played twice by John Peel - or so the band claims) Gary Marx played guitar through a practice amplifier and Andrew Eldritch abused drums (it is claimed that one can hear him drop the sticks in the recording). The partners each wrote and sang on a song.
Early years (1981-1983)
The band regrouped with Adams on bass, while Andrew's drumming was replaced by a drum machine named Doktor Avalanche, leaving him to concentrate on vocals. The first gig with the new lineup was played on February 16, 1981, in Vanbrugh College, York, England - this is considered the "proper" start of The Sisters of Mercy. Later that year, Ben Gunn established himself as the second guitarist after several others came and went.
The live performances featured many cover versions: among those, a medley consisting of Sister Ray (by Velvet Underground) / Ghostrider (by Suicide) / Louie Louie (by Richard Berry), which became a live staple, as did covers of countless other songs.
At some point the band was heard assaulting its audiences with full-scale performances of Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight) by ABBA, and (reportedly) were wearing drag on stage for the fun of it.
Andrew Eldritch took over lyrics-writing, Doktor-programming, and record-producing duties, while sharing the music-writing with Gary Marx. Eldritch's melancholic baritone, Craig Adams's pulsating bass, Doktor Avalanche's beat and Gary Marx's flowing guitar led the band to early underground success. Ben Gunn did his best not to spoil the picture.
The band's singles were routinely featured in UK independent charts ; some became single of the week in various UK indie magazines. John Ashton of Psychedelic Furs produced the early classic "Alice". "Reptile House" EP is another classic example of early Sisters work and marks the maturing songwriter Eldritch (who wrote, produced and (reportedly) played all instruments on it).
At the same time Ben Gunn left in an atmosphere of unanimous bitterness. Gunn stated that he did not agree with the direction Andrew Eldritch was taking the band - which, according to Gunn, started out as a joke on serious rock'n'roll outfits, but eventually became one. Gunn also mentioned personality conflicts with Andrew Eldritch as a reason for his departure.
First and Last and Always era (1984-1985)
Ben Gunn was replaced by Wayne Hussey , who, in addition to being a more-than-reasonable guitarist, also became the third songwriter. His guitar skills tremendously improved the live side of the band.
The Black October UK tour (October-November 1984) confirmed the underground cult status of the band.
However, the growing alienation between Eldritch and the rest of the group was getting out of hand during the recording of the debut First and Last and Always album. Eldritch's deteriorating health and psychological problems worsened the situation. Most songs on the album were written and rehearsed by Marx, Hussey, and Adams, with Eldritch stepping in at the latest stage to write lyrics and add vocals.
Following the release of First and Last and Always, produced by Dave Allen (March 11, 1985 - 1985 in music), Gary Marx split from the band in the middle of a supporting tour. The group completed the tour as a three-piece act, and said farewell to the fans with the final gig in London's Royal Albert Hall on June 18, 1985.
Video recordings of the last show (touted "the festival of remembrance") were later released as "Wake".
The split (1985-1986)
Shortly after the last gig Eldritch relocated to Hamburg, while Hussey and Adams announced their decision to split off to form their own group, citing artistic and personal differences with Eldritch.
During the highly publicised soap opera that follows, the new band started making concerts under name of The Sisterhood, playing Hussey's songs written for the Sisters but vetoed by Eldritch.
Meanwhile Eldritch protested their usage of Sisterhood name as too similar to The Sisters of Mercy, and in an attempt to stop the practice released the single Giving Ground by his own band, Sisterhood. The single was later followed by the album Gift. The other band eventually christened themselves The Mission amidst suspicions that the whole affair had been a PR stunt to jumpstart Mission's career.
With these releases Andrew Eldritch allegedly won over Hussey and Adams in the race for the £25,000 advance offered by the publishers to the first member of The Sisters of Mercy to release any output.
Floodland era (1987-1989)
Left to his own devices, Eldritch recorded the Floodland album (November 13, 1987 – 1987 in music), marking a shift away from guitars-based rock towards keyboard-oriented explorations pioneered in Gift. The album was produced by Eldritch and Larry Alexander , with contributions from Jim Steinman on two songs.
American singer and bass-player Patricia Morrison was recruited, supposedly to maintain the illusion of a group during promotional appearances, a claim which Morrison contested. The band did not play live during this period.
Vision Thing era (1990-1993)
The next incarnation of The Sisters of Mercy featured an unknown German guitarist, Andreas Bruhn , whom Eldritch apparently discovered playing in a Hamburg pub; controversial bassist Tony James (ex-Sigue Sigue Sputnik mainman); and last-minute recruit Tim Bricheno , formerly of All About Eve, on guitars.
The new line-up kicked off with Vision Thing album, released October 22, 1990 (1990 in music), produced by Eldritch (one song was a co-production with Jim Steinman). The album also featured session guitarist John Perry with backing vocals by Maggie Railey . Designed as an assault on USA policies, it marked another change of direction, this time towards guitar-oriented rock.
The band launched 1990-1991 world tour to promote the album. In 1991 they organized a controversial North American tour in double-act with Public Enemy. Fearing a clash between white-skinned fans of Sisters with the black-faced following of Public Enemy, several towns banned the performances, and the tour was cancelled halfway through. In late 1991, Tony James left the group for his solo career; bass duties were transferred to Doktor Avalanche.
The USA tour fiasco did not help the already strained relationship between Eldritch and the Sisters' new record company EastWest , a WEA subsidiary (the band was assigned to it 1989 following an internal shuffle in WEA).
Under the insistence of the record company the band rerecorded their early single Temple of Love (with Ofra Haza on additional vocals) to promote the collection of their early independently released singles, entitled Some Girls Wander By Mistake (1992). At the end of the year, Tim Bricheno left the band and was replaced in 1993 by Adam Pearson .
Adam Pearson was the only guitarist on the Under the Gun single, which also featured Terri Nunn on backing vocals. The single was recorded to promote the Best of compilation A Slight Case Of Overbombing (1993). The single and the record releases turned out to be the last from the band until this day.
Andreas Bruhn was reportedly out of the band in spirit by this time, but continued to tour with it in 1993.
Following the last concerts in December 1993, The Sisters of Mercy went into what Andrew Eldritch called a "strike against EastWest ".
Late years (1996-)
The band was revived in 1996 for several gigs supporting the Sex Pistols. Eldritch called this "my Saturday job", but was interested enough to revive the band for a short tour every year until 2003. The live performances do not resemble a nostalgia act, to the disappointment of some audiences - the band plays an increasing catalogue of new unreleased songs, obscure B-sides, and reworked old classics.
The contract with EastWest was terminated in 1997 after the company agreed to accept material recorded under the SSV name instead of two albums for which the Sisters of Mercy had contractual obligations. The company agreed to accept the material (techno-like droning featuring mumbling vocals by Andrew Eldritch, without drums) without listening to it first. The recordings were never officially released and circulated only through pirate MP3s.
The band failed to secure a new contract and refused to release new material independently. According to rumours, Eldritch's starting negotiating position is $3 million USD for 3 albums.
The new album is reportedly being recorded in no hurry, and, according to Eldritch, can be completed in a few months if such need arises.
Current band members are shown in bold.
- Gary Marx, guitars, vocals on one early track (1980-1985)
- Andrew Eldritch, vocals, keyboards, guitars (1980-)
- Craig Adams, bass (1981-1985)
- Doktor Avalanche, drums, keyboards, bass (1981-)
- Ben Gunn, guitars (1981-1983)
- Wayne Hussey, guitars, backing vocals (1984-1985)
- Patricia Morrison, perhaps pretending to play bass (1985-1989)
- Andreas Bruhn, guitars (1989-1993)
- Tony James, bass (1989-1991)
- Tim Bricheno, guitars (1990-1992)
- Adam Pearson, guitars, backing vocals, bass (1993-)
- Chris Sheehan, guitars, backing vocals (1996; 2000-)
- Mike Varjak, guitars (1997-1999)
Note: this list does not include short-lived members from 1980-1981, and live band members from 1990 onwards (in 1990-1991 they had one keyboardist; from 1992 - 1993, one keyboardist and one keyboardist/singer; and from 1996 onwards, a Doktor Avalanche operator)
- First and Last and Always (1985)
- Floodland (1987)
- Vision Thing (1990)
- Some Girls Wander By Mistake (1992) Collection early singles.
- A Slight Case Of Overbombing (1993) Best Of with two recent singles.
- Damage Done (1980)
- Body Electric (1982)
- Alice (1982)
- Anaconda (1983)
- Alice EP (1983)
- Reptile House EP (1983)
- Temple of Love (1983)
- Body and Soul (1984)
- Walk Away (1984)
- No Time to Cry (1985)
- This Corrosion (1987)
- Dominion (1988)
- Lucretia, My Reflection (1988)
- More (1990)
- Doctor Jeep (1990)
- When You Don't See Me (1990)
- Temple of Love (1992) (1992)
- Under the Gun (1993)
- The Sisters of Mercy official homepage
- The Sisters of Mercy history
- Assorted The Sisters of Mercy fan pages
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