Mark Andrews Sisters of Mercy Biography Black Planet Culture

You can Sisters of Mercy experienced on stage and still hardly saw. Ever since their singer Andrew Eldritch became infatuated with the theatrical effects of dry ice fog in the early 1980s, he has appeared at concerts at best in silhouette: a being in a wide-brimmed Western hat, “thin as a credit card,” clinging to the microphone stand, only occasionally a smoldering dot scurried through the fog, Eldritch’s obligatory cigarette.

In the meantime, you can hardly tell from the look of the 63-year-old, bald-headed singer that he was once a damn rock star, even a myth that is obsessively worshiped to this day. While he still tours, he hasn’t recorded an album in 32 years. Nevertheless, Eldritch is one of the icons of British pop culture, also because, even when he allowed himself to be interviewed in exceptional cases, he never revealed anything about himself apart from enigmatic, sarcastic remarks.

“The hardest bastard I’ve ever had to work with”

A book by the British journalist Mark Andrews is now bringing light into the darkness, which, based on countless interviews with companions, traces the rise (and self-dismantling) of the band named after a song by Leonard Cohen. It’s the period between 1978 and 1984 when punk lost its momentum in Britain and a bunch of young bands went in search of the new big thing: Joy Division, The Smiths, The Sisters of Mercythe latter with a dark, psychedelic amalgam of gothic and glam rock elements.

The years 1980 to 1985 are at the center of the meticulously researched band biography, although the long-awaited international breakthrough only came afterwards. That’s why pretty much everything that wistfully recalls the pre-digital era of rock music is included: coal-fired power plants on the outskirts of town, Scrabble games on speed, the smell of sniffing glue, socks stuffed into the crotch, guitarists puked all over, cruel-sounding demo tapes and a dominant-obsessed bandleader with a ghostly instinct for attitude and self-promotion.

Mark Andrews: "BlackPlanet": Mark Andrews: Black Planet - The Rise of the Sisters of Mercy.  Translated from the English by Kirsten Borchardt.  Hannibal Verlag, Innsbruck 2022. 360 pages, 27 euros.

Mark Andrews: Black Planet – The Rise of the Sisters of Mercy. Translated from the English by Kirsten Borchardt. Hannibal Verlag, Innsbruck 2022. 360 pages, 27 euros.

(Photo: Hannibal Verlag)

Practically everyone who has their say on the 360 ​​pages agrees: Andrew Eldritch, whose real name is Andrew Taylor and who, against all odds, managed to metamorphose from an Oxford student into a charismatic fictional character, is charming, highly intelligent and disciplined, but also pedantic, arrogant, egomaniac. An obsessive David Bowie fan who speaks six languages, he rocked with iron will and tons of speed. Max Hole, who worked for Warner Music in the 1980s and later became Universal boss, says of the band photo on his desk: “It’s supposed to remind me of the most difficult bastard I’ve ever had to work with.”

Once he made a snail of a club manager for using the word “metaphysical” incorrectly

As warm as Andrew Taylor might have been, Eldritch could be icy with conversationalists. Once he made a snail of a club manager because he had used the word “metaphysical” wrong, another time he replied to a bandmate’s question about fire: “You are responsible for your own matches. I have exactly three more because today I smoke three more cigarettes in the evening.” At some point Taylor got tangled up with his alter ego Eldritch, the recordings for the first record “First and Last and Always” turned into an ordeal, at the end of which first Eldritch (at 45 kilos!) and then the band collapsed. And so this book is both a story of triumph and decline, but also the homage to an exceptional and renaissance man, who whispered grandiosely sardonic song lines into the world: “Pain looks great on other people. That’s what they’re for”.

It’s one of the book’s achievements to rid the band of all gothic clichés. The Sisters of Mercy had nothing to do with esotericism or black magic. It was better to play snooker in the pub or have a pinch of speed, and when Eldritch actually made it to stardom, he made himself comfortable not in a ruined castle but in a Mediterranean villa. He’s been touring with guest musicians who could be his sons for 30 years now, performing old and occasionally new songs with seemingly no desire to put them on record. Mark Andrews writes that nobody really knows what he does all day. He probably plays with cats, watches foreign-language films in their original language, listens to cricket reports on the radio and drinks a little.

Maybe you have to think of Andrew Eldritch as a happy man. Or should one say Andrew Taylor?

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