The first sisters logo as drawn in a hour by Andrew Eldritch according to legend.
The Sisters of Mercy are an English rock band that formed in 1977. After achieving early underground fame in UK, the band had their commercial breakthrough in mid-1980s and sustained it until the early 1990s, when they stopped releasing new recorded output in protest against their record company. Currently, the band is a touring outfit only.
The first single ('Damage Done / Watch / Home Of The Hit Men') is hard to find and even harder to listen to. Here's why...
Gary Marx and Andrew Eldritch knew each other as denizens of the F Club, which was then the primary punk dive in Leeds. They decided that they wanted to hear themselves on the radio (i.e. the John Peel Show), in much the same way that other cultural vandals like to see their names sprayed badly onto walls.
Gary Marx was able to play the guitar and sing. Andrew had very little musical ability or even inclination, but he had access to a drum kit through Jon Langford of The Mekons. Andrew was part of the project because he was just about the only person who was happy to play the drums without doing anything fancy on the tom-toms and cymbals. He didn't know how to. He could barely play the drums at all.
Apart from the borrowed drum kit, Andrew had a very cheap guitar and a three-watt practice amp - the kind of equipment you might find in a packet of cornflakes. Altogether, the duo still had a lot more equipment than talent, but talent was not much of an issue in the heady days of punk.
Nobody can remember how the first three songs came to be written, but it's reasonable to assume that the songs themselves were merely an excuse to be on the radio.
So it came to pass that our intrepid sonic explorers booked themselves half a day's studio time at RicRac Studios, which was (and possibly still is) a shed in Wortley. Wortley is a run-down industrial area south of Leeds, and RicRac Studios was owned and operated by a man who must have established fairly quickly that Gary Marx and Andrew Eldritch did not know what they were doing.
The studio owner was, naturally, the only one who knew how to operate the studio, so he did the engineering. With a beard. Our heroes found it difficult to convey to him what a non-cabaret act might sound like. As a result, nobody knew what they were supposed to be doing. The engineer lost himself in a place where no engineer had gone before (or since), somewhere near the worst of both worlds.
At least the material didn't sound like the cabaret acts which have haunted engineers and charts since the beginning of time. The band has followed this path ever since. As Andrew says, "You might not end up with a record which sounds like everybody else's, but you're more likely to end up with a record which sounds like you, even if it's subject to the limitations of your technique".
This theory can't justify the dreadful quality of the first single. It didn't sound like anybody else, but it didn't sound like the Sisters either. It just sounded bad.
The guitar parts were played upon the guitar, but that three-watt practice amp sounded ... like a three-watt practice amp. The bass parts were also played upon the guitar. The drums were played so badly that you can hear Andrew dropping the sticks at one point. The production was terrible and the songs themselves were never much good.
Still, it's important to remember that England was infested with punk bands of this calibre, and before they left the studio Andrew was showing Gary a sketch of the proposed logo, "Because we have to make some t-shirts". It was decided that the "band" would not, after all, be called 'The Captains Of Industry'.
Andrew went off to York with the master tape and a proposition for Red Rhino, an independent distributor: "You put up the money to press a thousand singles, and we'll pay for any that don't get sold".
Andrew knew the people at Red Rhino because he'd spent a couple of months working part-time for a t-shirt printer in York. This job involved selling t-shirts on Undertones tours, and making the interesting observation that York's gay community would give amyl nitrate to anybody in leather trousers.
Red Rhino said yes. They had nothing to lose apart from cashflow. The record was mastered with George Peckham (of 'Porky Prime Cut' fame) in Portland Place, near the BBC building in London. News had not yet reached Leeds that 'Porky' did his best work before lunchtime. The artwork was swiftly put together and it also went down to London, but news had not yet reached Leeds that printers have to be reminded to put the labels on the correct side of a piece of vinyl. Thus a collector's item was born.
Gary Marx and Andrew Eldritch made some t-shirts in anticipation, and huddled by the radio until ... John Peel played the record. They swear he played it twice.
Initially, Red Rhino sold almost enough copies to cover the manufacturing costs, but of course the record never went into a second pressing. (If you're sad enough to own a copy, it's almost certainly a much more recent bootleg.) By the time Red Rhino thought to ask for the shortfall, Gary Marx and Andrew Eldritch had done a bit of thinking themselves. The first real incarnation of the Sisters was about to take its monstrous shape.
(One of the earliest drum machines had just become available. This machine would allow the Sisters to rehearse in the cramped spaces available to them in Leeds, and it would allow them to stake their claim to some of the territory mapped out by Suicide. It would allow Andrew (who was never going to be a good drummer himself) to concentrate on singing, while Gary developed the guitar playing. Andrew could also write tunes, and he wrote them on a guitar, but he's always found it difficult to play while standing up, so he wasn't going to get a role as a front-line guitar player. Craig Adams was clearly the best candidate to be the band's own Lemmy. Previously a keyboard player, Craig was one of the first bass players to learn his trade with a drum machine, so his timing was brilliant. And he sounded like a juggernaut.)
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