The Sisters and The Cult

Source: SistersFan August 11, 2020

Looking at links between the two biggest bands to come out of West Yorkshire in the 1980’s, including a detailed look at the time a TSOM member joined The Cult live on stage for the encore at a gig at Leeds Uni in May 1985. What did Eldritch think of Astbury? And what were The Cult frontman’s opinion of TSOM back in 1985? Read on to find out!

By SistesFan

There was a certain inevitability that two bands emerging at roughly the same time, from neighbouring provincial cities, and appealing to the same cultural dynamic would be endlessly compared in the music press, and so it proved for The Sisters of Mercy and The Cult (originally The Southern Death Cult and then Death Cult), despite the very obvious differences in sound.
The Bradford band’s debut single, Moya/Fatman, came out in the same month (December 1982) that The Sisters of Mercy’s own breakthrough single Alice was climbing the indie charts and indeed in the same week that the Leeds band enjoyed their first cover article in a British music weekly (Sounds), and the bands’ fortunes followed a similar trajectory, with a series of well-received singles but no debut album (with the exception of the posthumous The Southern Death Cult compilation LP containing a mix of studio, session and live tracks) until September 1984, when The Cult released Dreamtime, originally to be followed the next month by the Sisters’ ultimately delayed debut set which of course had the working title Black October. By that stage, neither band had experienced the longed-for main chart breakthrough, and even going into the spring of 1985, despite all the extra column inches devoted to Ian Astbury’s band, The Cult’s top official chart position was when Ressurection Joe (sic) scraped the bottom reaches of the Top 75, whilst both Body and Soul and Walk Away had narrowly missed the Top 40 for The Sisters.
For all the similarities, the bands’ paths never really crossed, with TSOM and The Cult playing the Futurama festival in different years for example, and despite the increasing focus on the Yorkshire goth scene, the reality is that groups like The Sisters, The Cult and The Danse Society were all plugging away independently in their home cities rather than hanging out in some Batcave-type communal and mutually supportive lair.
Somewhat bizarrely for two bands whose origins were firmly in the punk movement, The Cult and TSOM began to converge over a shared and growing love of one of the old school rock titans initially swept away by 1977’s Year Zero ethic: Led Zeppelin. Wayne Hussey and Craig Adams would increasingly mention the Plant/Page-led combo in interviews, and even Andrew Eldritch was not immune to the band’s charm, enthusiastically intoning their classic Stairway to Heaven in soundchecks and namechecking the band himself on several occasions. In interview with Kerrang!’s Dave Dickson in March 1985, Eldritch spoke enthusiastically about Led Zep: “I think it’s time we did a Zeppelin number just to show the public what’s what!” enthuses Eldritch. “Wayne and I tend to raid the freebie cupboards at WEA more than anyone else – Wayne particularly is a whizz at it; he has a knack of walking out with hundreds of albums without anyone actually noticing that he’s had his allowance! But Wayne took the whole of the Zeppelin back-catalogue out a month ago and neither of us since have been able to live without it! They wrote great songs, which is my primary criterion for what makes a great band, wore really silly clothes. And they were Gods, not only because of who they were and what they did, not because they could play something – apart from Jimmy Page – really fast, or because they did more drugs than anybody else…they were Gods because they were Led Zeppelin! They were awesome! If they’d cut all the guitar solos out of the records there wouldn’t have been any question in the late ’70s that they were still awesome, and I think they’d still be seen as the rule for what makes a rock band. But for some of us they still count for a lot; we have other criteria as well, but we haven’t forgotten them. It’s about time someone got up and said something as crass as: Led Zep – ace! We’re a great deal thinner…and we’re slightly younger.. we don’t wear flared trousers, although our sleeves have been known to get very similar… our hair? Pretty much the same overall, I’d say; Craig’s looking good these days and Wayne’s certainly letting it all hang out…we don’t have such a big backline but our crew is certainly groovier…and we have the same backing of Warner Com. So we shall see!”
This extremely overt endorsement of a band considered as pariahs by most punk and post-punk fans was echoed by The Cult, who were rapidly moving in a “rawk” direction, for which the May 1985 single She Sells Sanctuary would be the catalyst, moving on to the distinctly heavier album Love in November of that year and the out-and-out Led Zep-obsessed follow-up Electric in April 1987. With both bands now citing Zeppelin as a major influence, it was inevitable that The Sisters would be asked about their West Yorkshire contemporaries in interview. In the fanzine Day of the Ray Gun Cometh, interviewer Louise (a noted fan of The Cult) at one point states “You’re often mentioned alongside The Cult..” to which Eldritch immediately retorts, “Not by us we’re not.” In the Kerrang! interview he went further, when reminded that the Bradford act were laying claim to the same heritage and asked what made TSOM’s claim more legitimate, stating “I’m wearing the hat! … We do no get on with Ian Astburys (The Cult) of this world, or the Andi Sex Gangs (Sex Gang Children), or the Alien Sex Fiends, or the Nick Caves (ex-Birthday Party) of this world; we do not get on with a good deal of people as it happens. …But the fact is we find The Cult intensely embarrassing… Billy Duffy apart; Billy, every time I meet you I think you’re a great bloke and it’s never embarrassed me to talk to you, OK? But Ian… ouch!” 
Astbury himself was much more magnanimous about The Sisters, bigging them up on his apearance on mainstream UK breakfast TV show TV-AM in September 1985 in this clip kindly uploaded to YouTube by “Travis Bickle”. As Mark Andrews highlighted on Heartland Forum, Astbury highlights (at around 5 minutes 15 into the clip) bands like The March Violets and in particular singles out The Sisters for praise when talking about how the scene was beginning to take hold.

Whilst Eldritch’s own view was clear, Wayne Hussey’s excellent and highly readable recent autobiography Salad Daze sheds a slightly different light on the personal relationship between the two bands, which he traced back to his decision to go to see The Cult at the Dortmunder Bierkeller on the outside of the Merrion Centre (the large brutalist mall which was also home to the clubs Le Phono and Tiffany’s) on their debut tour under that nomenclature in May 1984 (the 13th to be precise) when The Sisters enjoyed a rare night at home in Leeds during their own first major UK tour. “Craig and I donned our glad rags and caught the bus into town to go and see ‘em. With introductions made we shared a few drinks with them after the show and that was the start of a long association with The Cult for Craig and I. Billy Duffy, in particular became a very good friend of mine over the next few years. Typically, the ‘Dritch absolutely deplored the fact that we were fraternising with a band he considered the enemy.”

It was Astbury rather than Duffy, though, who lead Hussey astray on the night before The Sisters of Mercy’s crowning glory, the Royal Albert Hall gig in London on June 1985 that would prove to be his and Adams’ last with the band. The Cult’s singer had arranged to pick Hussey up to go to see The Damned at Hammersmith Palais, but on getting into the taxi Hussey discovered that legendary hell-raiser Lemmy was also along for the ride. Those who have read the guitarist’s account of that night out (in which the gig itself features only tangentially) will be amazed that he managed to put on such a stellar performance the following night at the Royal Albert Hall gig recorded for posterity on the Wake video, particularly as he believes (or perhaps it was a slip of the pen) that the headliners at the Hammersmith Palais gig he attended were Killing Joke and not The Damned!

Leeds Student review of The Cult at Leeds University
Astbury and Hussey’s friendship had probably been cemented the previous month when The Sisters enjoyed a few nights off after the extensive and exhaustive European leg of the tour to support the release of First and Last and Always. By coincidence, The Cult were again in town, this time playing on 25th May at the Leeds University Union Refectory (main hall) in support of their chart-bound single She Sells Sanctuary. Released the previous week, rather than being an instant success, the song actually took some considerable time to make the top twenty, as chart positions of 68-50-43-41-41-35 and 30 over its first seven weeks of release will testify. One can only imagine the band (and record label)’s anguish when it stalled at no. 41 for two weeks, tantalisingly close to the all-important top 40 and the potentially breakthrough Top Of The Pops appearance that would go with it (although in fact this didn’t happen until the song reached number 19 in mid-July!).
Once again, the sociable Hussey was unable to resist the opportunity to meet up with his new friends, an event recently recounted by fan Nick W on The Sisters of Mercy 1980-1985 Facebook fan page. “A group of us had tickets to see The Cult at Leeds Uni on the She Sells Sanctuary tour. We were stood on the steps outside the Uni and I saw a guy stood next to a purple Volvo and recognised him as Wayne Hussey. Me being a confident 18 year-old went over for a chat. Having seen The Sisters play at the same venue a couple of months earlier, I asked him what they had been up to. I thought he told me they had been to the USA but now looking at the dates he must have told me they were going to go to the USA.  He was very polite, but not very talkative. I went back to tell my mates I had just met one of the Sisters and thought nothing more of it. Then at the gig, Wayne came on with The Cult and played guitar – what a gig! I remember they played Moya at the end which was an old Southern Death Cult song and we being from Bradford were also massive fans.”

Hussey’s appearance on stage with another band – a rare event for one of the members TSOM at this time, although by the autumn Craig Adams would be moonlighting with The Dead Vaynes and Eldritch and Hussey would appear briefly with Skeletal Family in Hamburg during the ill-fated meet-up to salvage a way ahead – was also mentioned in the Leeds Student review of the gig: “The highlight of the evening was Wayne Hussey joining the band on stage for… guess what? … renditions of Wild Thing and Louie Louie, and horror of horrors, I really enjoyed it. Now there’s an admission,” confided reviewer “Clem Snide”. Thanks to the largesse of the doyen of the TSOM 8085 FB group, Phil Verne, we can all now understand Mr Snide’s reluctant enthusiasm via this audio extract from the gig. Astbury introduces his special guest thus: “Now then, he needs no introduction….Quiet then….We have to start this collaboration this evening because, basically, we couldn’t sell enough tickets in Leeds (!) ….. because of this **** here…And so, just for you, for one evening only…I Wanna Be Your Dog.” The Stooges’ classic has only a three-note riff, but on the introduction the second note is misplayed, hardly the most auspicious start, but the band recover well and after some lengthy and rather tedious teasing of the crowd, they finally arrive at the Moya finale. In between the two, the band had played a segue of Wild Thing and Louie Louie, with drummer Nigel Preston slowing down and speeding up the rhythm as appropriate, a novel experience for Hussey who had spent the last eighteen months playing over the metronomic precision (or mechanical failure) of Doktor Avalanche. The gig ticket displayed here is, unsurprisingly for regular readers, from the voluminous collection of the ever-generous LG.
The Cult would continue to play a large part in the lives of Hussey and Adams after the 1985 TSOM split, with the pre-Mission version of The Sisterhood supporting The Cult on tour in Europe in early 1986, and of course Craig Adams went on to become a member of the Bradford ensemble in the early/mid 1990’s for a while, featuring on bass on their self-titled double LP in 1994. Following The Cult’s mid-1980’s rock phase, Eldritch would return with his own goth metal iterations of The Sisters in the This Corrosion/Dominion/Lucretia, My Reflection/More/Vision Thing eras, and although TSOM eschewed many of the more obvious excesses of the Bradfordians’ Electric period, it was only by reverting to a more traditional 70’s rock sound that both bands were able to achieve the chart success that eluded them in their most creative and musically satisfying eras.
My thanks for this post are due to Phil Verne, to Robin and Mark, to Nick W, to LG and to others who contributed knowingly or unwittingly.