Posts Tagged ‘book review’

Unbound – 11th November 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

I may not have discovered The Sisters of Mercy until 1987 (being born in ‘75, I was simply too young to have been around in their first phase), like many, I have long been fascinated by those early years and their ascent from vaguely ramshackle indie act to the band who released the album which would essentially define the sound of ‘goth’ for decades to come. By ‘fascinated’, I really mean ‘obsessed’, particularly in my teens, but my love of The Sisters has endured. While the story of those first five years has been told, retold, fetishized and transformed into lore with elements of legend and myth blended in along the way (much of which having been perpetuated by Andrew Eldritch himself), it’s never been given truly detailed coverage, and for this reason, I joined many in pitching in for the crowdfunding of Mark Andrews’ biography. The wait felt like forever, and in the meantime, Trevor Ristow dropped Waiting for Another War (which I’m yet to pick up) on the same period. And so it is that Sisters bios are like proverbial busses, although that’s certainly no complaint: it simply indicates the impact and significance of a band who, despite having been in existence for over forty years and who haven’t released a record in the last thirty.

The book looks and feels like quality (although some have griped about the lack of capitalisation on the definite article both on the cover and throughout the text), but it’s on the contents that Andrews’ work should be judged. There is no two ways about it that Paint My Name in Black and Gold was worth the wait.

Two things immediately stand out: the quality and depth of the research, and the quality of the prose. The latter is particularly appreciated, and important: all the research in the world counts for little if not conveyed in a way that’s appealing. Put simply, Andrews writes nicely, and he writes well, accessibly but not pitched at those with a reading level of The Sun. Nor does he become so involved in trainspotting details of catalogue numbers or numbers of copies pressed or sold or takes in the studio. This is a very human biography, and the input from pretty much everyone involved with the band during the time (with the notable exception of Eldritch) not only brings it to life, but also gives it a real weight of credibility. Mark Pearman (Gary Marx) comes across particularly well, his reflections honest and considered, his position remarkably philosophical and even-handed.

The way in which Andrews places the development of the band in context makes for very interesting reading, with extensive coverage of the Leeds scene of the late 70s and early 80s, as well as the band’s strong links with York at the beginning (the Priestley’s signage remains at the top of Bootham, although it’s now a rather bourgeois homeware retailer). This alone makes for essential reading for anyone with an interest in the emerging post-punk scene, where writing about Leeds has been largely overshadowed by that on Manchester, and of course, London.

He moves things on at a steady but swift pace, but at the same time doesn’t skimp on detail, and pack the book with anecdotes and information about standout nights on particular tours and recording sessions, as well as various wild antics that seem so at odds with the seriousness of the music. Above all, Andrews captures the essence of the experience of existing in and around The Sisters during this time – the camaraderie and sense of community and even family, the buzz, the connection between the band, collectively and individually, with their fans. He also traces how the dynamic would shift and some of that proximity would diminish over time as the band got bigger. It’s also apparent that even in the early stages, the band dynamic and friendships thrived on the differences as much as the similarities of the members, and how much Eldritch was the driving force.

Andrews also presents an impressively balanced and objective perspective: while clearly a fan, there’s no idolisation of the band or any individual here, and his admiration for Eldritch – something that most of the interview subjects also express – is tempered by a realistic appraisal of his shortcomings and at times wilful stubbornness and perversity. That Eldritch is a stickler and prone to obsessive behaviour is widely known among fans, but Andrew really brings things to life when he writes of how Eldritch would literally spend long nights fiddling with EQ levels just to hear how they sound, and it requires no imagination whatsoever to comprehend the frustrations of band members and producers alike working alongside him. But more than even this, in Paint My Name, Andrews goes a long way to excavate the contradictions and complexities of the man who became Andrew Eldritch, how the nerdy, glam-obsessed Andrew Taylor would transmogrify into the beast that is Eldritch, and details the damage done to both himself – mentally and physically – and those around him along the way. The poverty and degradation are at times harrowing, and the long tours of ‘84 and ‘85 may have been among the band’s most memorable and seen them play to the largest numbers of fans of their career, but the way in which Andrews relays just how strung-out, fucked-up and fractured the band were behind the scenes renders their achievements all the more remarkable.

The epilogue provides a condensed overview of the years which would follow, but it’s clear that none of The Sisters’ subsequent history could come close to being quite as gripping as the first five years, whereby the rise of The Sisters would reverberate indefinitely.

The hardback is sold out, but the e-book edition is still available via Unbound.

81MD-vGPuqL