THE SISTERS OF MERCY + THE VIRGINMARYS – ROUNDHOUSE, LONDON 22.9.23
Any tour from The Sisters Of Mercy is an event in its own right, and this one is no different. The last time the Sisters played in the UK was in 2021 at this very venue, the Roundhouse. However, since then they seem to have been touring the world pretty much non-stop. Unsurprisingly their appearance in London brings out the faithful in their droves. Having said that, the show is apparently not sold out.
Tonight’s support act are The Virginmarys, who have forty minutes in which to convert some new fans. The band, from Macclesfield, were originally a three piece, but with the departure of their bassist Matt Rose in 2016, and their touring bass player Ross Massey, who was effectively Matt’s replacement, in 2016, the band has resolutely remained a two piece. They comprise Ally Dickaty on vocals and guitar, and Danny Dolan on drums.
Their arrival onstage is preceded by classic 1960s soul played over the PA, which in no way prepares the audience for the onslaught to follow! I must confess that I was a bit concerned that they may not be as good as a two piece. However, I needn’t have worried. Their sound is still pretty full-blooded. Danny Dolan has what looks like a ship’s bell as part of his kit. Initially I thought that this was perhaps some kind of trophy, but apparently this is not the case as it gets a considerable amount of use!
Ally Dickaty has a superbly raw voice, which eminently serves their material. They play a new single, which unfortunately I don’t catch the title of. It has more of a classic rock feel than anything else in their set, and in times gone by would have had ‘hit’ written all over it. Maybe it still has today?
Tension and expectation mounts as we wait for The Sisters Of Mercy to take the stage. There are quite a few goths in the audience, likewise metallers. However, a Sisters audience is not as easy to quantify as it may have been thirty-five years ago. For example, a posh sounding bloke in a Barbour jacket pushes past me on his way to the front. He’s going to be uncomfortably hot in that jacket….. I really didn’t think that I’d ever see anyone so attired at a Sisters gig.
The Sisters Of Mercy today comprise the ever present Andrew Eldritch on vocals, Ben Christo on guitar, Dylan Smith on bass and second guitar, and a chap manipulating four laptops, whose name appears to be a very well kept secret. On taking the stage Andrew Eldritch reminds us “we’re from Leeds!”. Well, the original band was Andrew. Ben Christo is from Bristol however, Dylan Smith’s origins are probably somewhere on the internet, but wherever they are they’re not easy to find, and laptop man’s origins are as difficult to discover as his name is. There is no drummer. The laptops are clearly the descendants of the Sisters’ original drum machine Doktor Avalanche.
A question that enters my mind more than once during the gig is whether the Sisters can still be considered a ‘current’ act, or whether they are now firmly ensconced on the nostalgia circuit? They haven’t released a new album since ‘Vision Thing’ in 1990. The reason for this being that they had a disagreement with East West Records, and effectively went on strike, as far as recording was concerned. This went on until late 1997, when the band’s contract with East West was terminated.
There have been repeated rumours of a new album since then, and indeed, some new songs have been played live (including ‘Don’t Drive On Ice’ tonight), but thus far there is no sign of the fourth Sisters album being released. However, the old songs still sound modern, despite being over thirty years old, and the Sisters’ vitality as a live band is pretty astonishing. Also, they’ve never ceased operations, and the presence of new material does suggest that they are moving forward.
Andrew Eldritch’s voice is quite low in the mix. This leads to some disquiet in the audience, with one member suggesting that Eldritch was lip-syncing. I can assure you that this was very much not the case. His voice was in fine form. For some of the time Ben Christo was also singing, his part being an octave above Eldritch’s. This may have led to some confusion.
All in all, tonight’s gig is pretty impressive. I know that some audience members were grumbling about Eldritch’s vocals, and saying that he “didn’t sound like on the records”. Well, in all honesty, very few artists do. If you want to hear something that sounds like the record, stay at home and listen to the albums. Personally, I can’t wait till the Sisters tour again, or indeed, release that fabled fourth album.
The Sisters Of Mercy setlist:
‘Don’t Drive On Ice’
‘I Will Call You’
‘First And Last And Always’
‘Dominion’ / ‘Mother Russia’
‘Doctor Jeep’ / ‘Detonation Boulevard’
‘Eyes Of Caligula’
‘I Was Wrong’
‘Crash And Burn’
‘On The Beach’
‘When I’m On Fire’
‘Lucretia My Reflection’
‘Temple Of Love’