In high school, we all had our musical directions. A good friend of mine chose the dark pathway to all things goth. The Sisters of Mercy featured heavily in his musical rotation. At a time when we shared aural exposure, switching from Venom, Motörhead, Rush, Maiden, and early Metallica to First And Last And Always and later Floodland was a natural experience.
The Sisters of Mercy, Siouxsie, The Mission, and Fields Of The Nephilim, we lapped it all up. But it’s been many years since I saw Andrew Eldritch and co live.
The Sisters of Mercy – The Virginmarys
Marble Factory, Bristol – 15 November 2023
Words: Paul Hutchings
Photography: Georgia Brittain
A cold evening at the Marble Factory seems standard for November. The venue doesn’t exactly exude warmth, considering it’s a series of old converted factory units. Concrete and iron girders don’t provide the heat that might have been needed. But a full house ensured that the chill of early evening soon lifted.
Selling out venues over 40 years after forming your band is impressive. More so when you consider the reputation that The Sisters Of Mercy have cultivated. It is almost a lottery as to what you receive. As one fan next to me explained about her experience at a previous show, you can be lucky if Eldritch makes it to the front of the stage.
“He could have been doing a crossword at the back,” she tells me. Yet, here she is, full outfit in place, cutting all the correct shapes at all the correct moments. Such is the draw of this seminal UK band.
It’s an interesting, eclectic crowd. Those who seriously follow the gothic code have made the effort and enhance the evening. Full make-up and outfits are a fine sight, and there are plenty who show their commitment.
It’s appreciated. They are joined by plenty of lager-swilling men who were a bit younger and certainly a bit slimmer when those early albums were first released. Add to them the curious youngsters getting their first fix, the parents for whom this is a trip down memory lane, and a good selection of Metal Heads who are happy to soak up rock music in its various forms.
We reach 9:15, having had a good 30 minutes since The Virginmarys left the stage. There’s a genuine shriek of excitement from the crowd as the lights dim, the curtain falls, and four dark-cloaked figures enter. The lighting is suitably moody. The stage is drenched in blue, and the band kick into the first of a 19-song set that draws from their small body of work.
Doctor Jeep is a fine opener, the driving riffs of guesting guitarist Kai from Esprit D’Air and the squealing lead work of Ben Christo working in tandem. Behind them, the motionless figure of Chris Catalyst, acting nurse to the immortal Doktor Avalanche, guides the programming. Eldritch wastes little energy. His vocals are low in the mix for much of the evening, which adds to the overall atmosphere.
It’s a relentless barrage of songs, some of which receive more recognition than others. There’s a spread of new material, which may have thrown some who don’t follow the band so closely anymore. Eyes Of Caligula, a reference to Margaret Thatcher, Don’t Drive On Ice and Genevieve all get an airing.
It’s the more familiar music that gets the crowd moving. Alice has the audience singing word perfect as Eldritch stalks the stage, switching from left to right, back to front. We can see the great man, and despite his reputation, he is in stellar form tonight.
Little emotion is likely, a brief “good evening” the extent of his interaction with the audience, but we aren’t expecting Bruce Dickinson-style ramblings. This is serious stuff, albeit music that clearly makes all of us at the venue happy. Dominion segues with Mother Russia, providing one of many high points in the evening, whilst a personal favourite, Marian (Version), is exemplary.
The lights switch from blues to reds, soft oranges, and harsher greens. They add rather than detract, providing the necessary environment for the band to maintain their aloofness. Although someone clearly hasn’t told Kai or Christo, who spend the entire set grinning and pointing at the crowd.
Catalyst remains devoid of emotion. They raise the roof with More, Eldritch effortlessly upping the tempo with sheer enunciation. Underneath all of this is a well-rehearsed outfit who don’t put a step out of place throughout the show.
An hour after they hit the stage, we get another newer song, the blinding When I’m On Fire, to close, and darkness descends once more. “This is the bit where they pretend to wait for us to call them back on,” my neighbour laughs.
She’s right. And then that bass line pumps out of the PA. Eldritch is back, shades still wrapped around his head, as he sings the opening lines to Lucretia My Reflection. We dance the ghost with Eldritch as the song builds, old and new alike thrusting hands to the sky. It’s an anthem, and the audience is in a spiritual frenzy.
The brooding vibe is replaced by the still vibrant Temple Of Love, still sounding epic 40 years after its first release in 1983. It’s reaching a crescendo, and there’s only one way to finish, as This Corrosion brings the evening to a pulsating end.
They aren’t always the most scintillating to watch, but a gig with The Sisters Of Mercy is an experience, an event, rather than an evening of entertainment. Few will have been disappointed. 43 years on, at 64 years of age, Eldritch still casts that enigmatic shadow.
It was only two months ago that I’d seen The Virginmarys headline The Patriot in Crumlin. There were fewer people that night, but the duo of Ally Dikaty and Danny Dolan are not phased by an almost full house already rammed into the venue.
Instead, they demonstrate why they continue to turn heads with a powerhouse set which sees them burst through eleven songs in 45 minutes.
Whilst one might think that a two-piece combo of drums and guitar can’t be that exciting to watch, The Virginmarys are able to hold the attention of all but the most irritating.
Dolan is a fine drummer, acting as more than just the engine room. His use of percussion, including his highly polished ship’s bell, provides an extra dimension to their sound, whilst Dikaty’s clever guitar play gives the band another dimension.
They have an arsenal of songs already in the bank. The Meds provides a solid opening, their lighting plain but enough to enhance their sound. They switch styles, maintaining their own sound but adding elements of bluegrass, blues, grunge, punk, rock, and even Metal.
Each song stands alone but fits neatly into the setlist. There’s limited conversation, although Dikaty’s humble thanks to the audience for getting in early is heartfelt and goes down well.
Latest single Where Are You Now? changes the tempo but not the intensity before they ratchet it up again with a few fan favourites, including Just A Ride and the closing song Bang, Bang, Bang.
For those familiar with the band, it’s an endorsement that this is a band on the up. For those exposed to them for the first time, it’s likely that they will be seeking The Virginmarys out again in the near future.