The Sisters of Mercy were founded in Leeds, England in 1980 by F-Club regulars Gary Marx and Andrew Eldritch to satisfy their intent to hear themselves on the radio; somewhere in the process band T-shirts were made and a single The Damage Done / Watch / Home Of The Hit-Men was released on the Merciful Release label.
The name was taken from a Leonard Cohen song of the same name which appeared in a certain film from 1971 ("because The Captains of Industry weren't as funny"), and was supposed to reflect the ambiguity of a rock'n'roll band - "half saints, half prostitutes".
On the single (claimed by the band to have been played twice by John Peel) Gary Marx played guitar through a 3-Watt practice amplifier and Andrew Eldritch was on drums. The partners each wrote and sang on one song.
Early Years (1981-1983)
The band regrouped with Craig Adams on bass (after a short period with Jon Langford of the Mekons and the Three Johns playing live gigs in that role), while Andrew's drumming was replaced by a drum machine named Doktor Avalanche, leaving him to concentrate on vocals. The first gig with the new line-up was played on February 16, 1981, in Alquin College, York, England - this is considered the "proper" start of The Sisters of Mercy.
Later that year, Ben Gunn established himself as the second guitarist after several others like Dave Humphrey and Tom Ashton (afterwards a member of The March Violets came and went. The live performances featured many cover versions: among those, a medley consisting of Sister Ray (by Velvet Underground), Ghostrider (by Suicide) and Louie Louie (by Richard Berry) became a live staple.
Andrew Eldritch took over lyrics-writing, Doktor-programming, and record-producing duties, while sharing the music-writing with Gary Marx. Eldritch's melancholic baritone, Craig Adams's pulsating bass, Doktor Avalanche's beat and Gary Marx's flowing guitar led the band to early underground success. Ben Gunn did his best not to spoil the picture.
The band's singles were regularly featured in UK independent charts; some became single of the week in various UK indie magazines. John Ashton of Psychedelic Furs produced the early classic "Alice". "The Reptile House EP" is another example of early Sisters work and marks the maturing songwriter Eldritch (who wrote, produced and (reportedly) played all instruments on it).
In late 1983, following highly successful Temple Of Love single, the band signed a contract with major record label WEA.At the same time Ben Gunn left in an atmosphere of unanimous bitterness. Gunn stated that he did not agree with the direction Andrew Eldritch was taking the band - which, according to Gunn, started out as a joke on serious rock'n'roll outfits, but eventually became one. Gunn also mentioned personality conflicts with Andrew Eldritch as a reason for his departure.
A perfect description and enjoyable read on the early days and the origin of The Sisters of Mercy can be found in the Quietus feature of November 17th, 2016 by Mark Andrews titled Life Before Alice: Andrew Eldritch, Leeds & The Birth of The Sisters of Mercy.
First And Last And Always Era (1984-1985)
After a few gigs with The March Violets' guitarist Tom Ashton standing in on guitar, the Sisters secured the services of Wayne Hussey to replace Ben Gunn, who, in addition to being a more-than-reasonable guitarist, also became the third song-composer, even though his personal views of what The Sisters should be like differed from those of other members of the band.. His guitar skills did, however, tremendously improve the live side of the band.
The Black October UK tour (October-November 1984) confirmed the underground cult status of the band. However, the growing alienation between Eldritch and the rest of the group was getting out of hand during the recording of the début First And Last And Always album. Most of the music for the album was written and rehearsed by Marx, Hussey, and Adams. Eldritch stepped in at the latest stage to write lyrics and add vocals. See more about the album recording proceedings here in this Wiki.
Following the release of First And Last And Always, produced by Dave Allen (March 11, 1985), co-founder Gary Marx split from the band on April 1st, 1985 in the middle of a supporting tour. The rest of the group completed the tour as a three-piece act, and said farewell to the fans with the final gig in London's Royal Albert Hall on June 18, 1985. Video recordings of the last show (touted "the festival of remembrance") were later released as "Wake".
The Split (1985-1986)
Shortly after the last gig Eldritch relocated to Hamburg, while Hussey and Adams announced their decision to split off to form their own group, citing artistic and personal differences with Eldritch.
During the highly publicised soap opera that followed, the new band started playing concerts under name of The Sisterhood, playing Hussey's songs originally written for the Sisters but vetoed by Eldritch.
Meanwhile Eldritch protested their usage of Sisterhood name as too similar to The Sisters of Mercy, and in an attempt to stop the practice released the single Giving Ground by his own band, The Sisterhood. The single was later followed by the album Gift.
The other band eventually christened themselves The Mission amidst suspicions that the whole affair had been a PR stunt to jump-start Mission's career. Anyway, with his releases Andrew Eldritch allegedly won over Hussey and Adams in the race for the £25,000 advance offered by the publishers to the first member of The Sisters of Mercy to release any output.
Some very interesting read about "the split" and how it came to this can also be found in the most wonderful blog I Was A Teenage Sisters of Mercy Fan under The 1985 Split – the real truth is never spoken ?? and The 1985 split pt 2 - Did Gary jump or was he pushed? and most recently The 1985 split - Von's final pre-split interview.
Floodland Era (1987-1989)
Left to his own devices, Eldritch recorded the Floodland album (released on November 13, 1987), marking a shift away from guitars-based rock towards keyboard-oriented explorations as pioneered in Gift. The album was produced by Eldritch and Larry Alexander, with contributions from Jim Steinman on two songs. As the first single from the album This Corrosion was selected and released on September 18th, 1987, followed by Dominion (February 1988) and Lucretia, My Reflection (May 1988).
American singer and bass-player Patricia Morrison had been recruited earlier in 1986 already for The Sisterhood side project, where she contributed vocals to The Chorus Of Vengeance, while for The Sisters of Mercy's Floodland period she supposedly was not more than to maintain the illusion of a group during promotional appearances, a claim which Morrison contested. Factually, she does play a major role in most of the videos that were produced for This Corrosion, Sandstorm/Dominion, Lucretia, My Reflection and 1959 released on October 31st, 1988 as a compilation named Shot.
The band did not play live during this period, apart from various TV appearances between 1987/1988 starting with Top Of The Pops on October 1st, 1987 to promote the This Corrosion single.
Patricia Morrison left the group in December 1989 under rumours that monies were not paid as due from Eldritch. A quote of Patricia Morrison on these issues can be found here.
Vision Thing Era (1990-1993)
The next incarnation of The Sisters of Mercy featured an unknown German guitarist, Andreas Bruhn, whom Eldritch apparently discovered playing in a Hamburg pub; controversial bassist Tony James (ex-Sigue Sigue Sputnik and Generation X); and last-minute recruit Tim Bricheno, formerly of All About Eve, on guitars.
The new line-up kicked off with Vision Thing album, released October 22, 1990, produced by Eldritch (one song was a co-production with Jim Steinman). The album also featured session guitarist John Perry with backing vocals by Maggie Reilly. Designed as an assault on USA policies, it marked another change of direction, this time towards guitar-oriented rock.
The band launched a 1990-1991 world-tour to promote the album. In 1991 they organized a controversial double-headlining tour of North America with Public Enemy. The tour was booked into large suburban venues away from American inner-city neighbourhoods and under-advertised, mainly because of promoters' fears of clashes between (predominantly white) Sisters fans and (predominantly black) Public Enemy fans. The poor promotion and distant venues resulted in disappointing ticket sales, and the tour was cancelled halfway through. A sold-out arena tour of America could have catapulted The Sisters to the top ranks of American music sales; the cancellation thus resulted in the common perception that The Sisters' relative obscurity in the American marketplace after Vision Thing was at least partly due to the inherent racism of concert promoters.
The USA tour fiasco did not help the already strained relationship between Eldritch and the Sisters' new record company EastWest, a WEA subsidiary (the band was assigned to it 1989 following an internal shuffle in WEA). The conflicts with WEA led to a termination of the band's USA record distribution, so the following records of the group would be available in the USA as imports only.
However, under the insistence of the record company the band rerecorded their early single Temple of Love (with Ofra Haza on additional vocals) to promote the collection of their early independently released singles, entitled Some Girls Wander By Mistake (1992).
At the end of the year, Tim Bricheno left the band and was replaced in 1993 by Adam Pearson. Pearson was the only guitarist on the Under The Gun single, which also featured Terri Nunn on backing vocals. The single was recorded to promote the Best of compilation A Slight Case Of Overbombing (1993).
The single and the record releases turned out to be the last from the band until this day. Andreas Bruhn was reportedly out of the band in spirit by this time, but continued to tour with them until he finally left by the end of 1993 to concentrate on a projected solo career. Following the last concerts in December 1993, The Sisters of Mercy went into what Andrew Eldritch called a "strike against EastWest".
Strike Years (1994 - 1997)
While issues with EastWest were going on and a solution pending, Andrew Eldritch remixed two songs for the German group Die Krupps in 1995 and appeared on the Sarah Brightman single "How Can Heaven Love Me".
Behind the scenes, Eldritch and Marx were also in contact again, and Marx started work on some new Sisters songs. Marx sent these tracks to Eldritch, but after hearing nothing from Eldritch for years, he released the songs on a CD titled Nineteen Ninety Five And Nowhere. Eldritch commented this recently by noting that communications between the two about this effort had been conducted over a third person, rather than directly.
After a two-year touring sabbatical, The Sisters of Mercy played several festival gigs together with the Sex Pistols in summer 1996. Eldritch called this "my Saturday job". Nonetheless, from then on the band toured regularly again. The guitarist spot would - apart from Adam Pearson on guitars - rotate between Chris Sheehan and Mike Varjak.
The contract with EastWest was terminated in 1997 after the company agreed to accept material recorded under the SSV name instead of two albums for which the Sisters of Mercy had contractual obligations. EastWest agreed to accept the material (techno-like droning featuring mumbling vocals by Andrew Eldritch, without drums) without listening to it first. The recordings were never officially released and circulated only through pirate MP3s.
Touring Through (1998 - 2010)
The band fail to secure a new contract and refuse to release new material independently. According to rumours, Eldritch's starting negotiating position is $3 million USD for 3 albums. The new album is reportedly being recorded in no hurry, and, according to Eldritch, can be completed in a few months if such need arises.
The band keep touring Europe (Event Horizon, 1998; Sisters Trip The Light Fantastic, 2000; Exxile On Euphoria, 2001; Europe 2002; Smoke And Mirrors, 2003) and the US (Sisters To The Planet Edge, 1999) with regular additional appearances at various summer festivals. The live performances do not resemble any sort of an nostalgia act, to the disappointment of some audiences - anyway, the band play an increasing catalogue of new unreleased songs, obscure B-sides, and reworked old classics.
No live performances are played in 2004, but a 6-date tour of European festivals takes place in August 2005, with Chris Catalyst taking the place of then Chris Sheehan. In 2006 guitarist Adam Pearson calls it a day, and is replaced by Ben Christo. The band embark on a huge 25th anniversary tour entitled "Sisters Bite The Silver Bullet", taking in 57 dates (26 in the US, Canada, Mexico, and 31 in the UK and continental Europe) followed by 2 shows in South America and a further tour leg of Eastern Europe for another 12 gigs. With over 70 shows, this tour was the longest the band had undertaken in fifteen years.
Following that, 2007 saw a triple festival visit at Lorca, Spain, Geiselwind, Germany, and Zottegem, Belgium. 2008 brought another few summer festival appearances in preparation for a susbsequent autumn tour of the USA and Canada entitled Ocean To Ocean Tour and continued in 2009 with a large tour of 40 gigs all over Europe, the Middle East and South America called Mechanised. More or less a matter of consequence, The Sisters restricted touring to some restorative four gigs in 2010.
Recent Events (2011 - ...)
2011 was marked by The Sisters' 30th Stage Anniversary Tour SISTERS XXX higlighted by the first appearcance of the band at a festival in the UK in 20 years and a long envisaged visit to Japan. Concerts in New Zealand and Australia had been contracted as well, but were cancelled and rescheduled by the promoters to early 2012. Summer 2012 saw two festival gigs at Belgrade Calling Festival, Serbia and Amphi Festival, Cologne, Germany. 2014 was marked by the Ever Forward-Tour in May and July with 17 gigs around Germany, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Scotland, England and Ireland.
For possible coming tour dates, please see Current Events.
- The Sisters of Mercy: A Short History - a Merciful Release/WEA press release from September 1987
- Off To Never Land: The Sisters Of Mercy Interviewed - a recent interview including a part on history
- The Sisters of Mercy's official booking agents @Primary Talent.