The Rose of Avalanche – The Rose of Avalanche at the BBC

Posted: 1 February 2022 in Albums
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Chapter 22 Records – CD December 18th / Vinyl in April 2023

Christopher Nosnibor

It seems hard to credit now, but back in the 80s and early 90s, the BBC’s national radio was a remarkable platform for breaking new music. John Peel will forever be legendary for the countless bands he gave exposure – obscure acts starting out and the likes of which would be unlikely to trouble the top 40… but then again, so many off them went on to do so. But there wasn’t only Peel – Janice Long and David ‘Kid’ Jensen played so many up-and-coming and under-the-radar acts, and they, too, would feature artists by having them record sessions at the Maida Vale studios.

The mid-80s was something of a pivotal period in terms of the evolution of alternative music, particularly here in the UK. In the slipstream of the post-punk acts that would come to be considered the progenitors of ‘goth’ – Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Sisters of Mercy in particular – followed a wave of bands who developed the style, but with poppier, more indie leanings. Although The Sisters’ ascent meant they developed away from being a ‘Leeds’ band, their presence and rise from the city made Leeds the epicentre of the second generation of goth – or perhaps post-goth indie – with the likes of The March Violets, Salvation, Groovin’ with Lucy, and The Rose of Avalanche all emerging from Leeds around this time.

By the release of their debut album, First and Last and Always in 1985, The Sisters of Mercy had moved a long way from the sound of their first few EPs, a move that coincided with their signing to a major label and Wayne Hussey replacing Ben Gunn. The Sisters were dead by the summer of that year, but rising from the ashes, The Mission’s first singles and debut album, God’s Own Medicine in 1986 added impetus to the rising wave of janglier, more accessible indie-goth.

Both John Peel and The Mission would play a part in the rapid ascendence of The Rose of Avalanche, with the former offering them a session simply on the basis of a track on a compilation album, and the latter inviting them to open for them on tour. That kind of exposure to such a potential fanbase is hard to come by any means, and by 1987 they had Sounds spurting praise all over them. Yet for all this, they failed to break the mainstream or to trouble the charts, and chugged on till the early 90s before calling it a day (although they recently opened a new chapter with some live dates. Never say never, eh?).

The recent release of The Sisters of Mercy’s BBC sessions has caused considerable excitement in the community, being their first official release since their 1992 compilation A Slight Case of Overbombing. The sessions had been in circulation as bootlegs for decades, under various titles and with varying quality. The fact the release left a side of vinyl blank while leaving the audio of the band’s Whistle Test performance – arguably on of their finest – in the vaults has caused considerable consternation particularly considering the 3-sided vinyl cost over £40 on release on Record Store day, while the cut-price CD is flimsily-packaged and feels ‘budget’ in every way.

Exhuming The Rose of Avalanche’s BBC sessions after a 25-year hiatus from releasing material may not send quite the same ripples, but isn’t only a significant event for fans, but a substantial document of the time.

It may have been early cut ‘L.A Rain’ that grabbed JP’s attention, but it’s not featured in their first Peel Session, which features three original cuts plus a cover of The Spencer Davis Group’s ‘Gimme Some Lovin’’ delivered with guts and monster guitar solo work, al driven by a stonking bass.

The band clearly evolved fast, and gained in confidence and competence. It’s the swagger that really makes the impression on ‘Rise of the Groove’ that spearheads the second session, which also features a strong take of one of their most successful singles, ‘Velveteen’. Rougher and rawer than the official version, ‘Never Another Sunset’ packs some heft without the tidal wave of reverb, and ‘Too Many Castles in the Sky’ is all about the up-front rock action.

Because of the nature of the BBC sessions, these recordings are necessarily quick, underproduced, but the positive flip is that they capture thee band in the moment. And it’s a good moment, bursting with energy.

The album wraps with the songs that started it all, an eight-minute sprawling drawling take on ‘L.A. Rain’ that’s pure Velvet Underground.

There are so many good songs on here: now is the time The Rose of Avalanche should be reassessed, and appreciated in a different light.

Artwork - The Rose Of Avalanche

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