author Trevor Ristow talks about his new book on The Sisters of Mercy.
Watching live music in the early ‘80s was a heavy mix of rock bands delivering the goods – Sabbath, Priest, AC/DC and Motorhead. Then with a little swagger came Hanoi Rocks, The Cult and Psychedelic Furs. Regular venues were in Sunderland and Newcastle – the Mecca, City Hall and Mayfair, then Tiffanys for darker nights that served up a poisoned brew from cult bands The March Violets and The Sisters of Mercy. A side note is their gig at the Newcastle venue on 13th March 1985 was bootlegged (Disguised in Black) and regarded highly among Sisters fans for it’s quality.
Recently some Sisters tracks have been synced on TV shows Game of Thrones and American Horror Story but I first came across the band around ’84 on the John Peel show when they played a session in the BBC studios. Hearing a baritone voice and drum machine was unusual for a rock band, and they did have an extra edge of driving bass carrying the sound onwards and upwards. Check out ‘Floorshow’, ‘Body Electric’ or the spellbinding ‘Marian’.
The Sisters mk 1 peaked with an appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test in March 1985 and then in June a final burn out at The Royal Albert Hall, London. Reports coming out of fan websites mention that at the end of the set, backstage Lemmy offered ‘assistance’ to frontman Andrew Eldritch and a refreshed Sisters played a blistering final encore of ‘Ghostrider’ and ‘Louie, Louie’. The gig was a triumph and God-like status was assured for Eldritch.
If ever there was a book needing to be written about a band it is this one. In a new interview, American author Trevor Ristow reveals how long the book was in the works and how ‘Waiting for Another War’- a line taken from the track ‘Valentine’ which featured on The Reptile House EP – was not the first title….. This book has had three titles. The working title for over a decade was ‘Mission and Revenge.’ Obviously that’s borrowed from the unreleased second Sisters album, but I also thought it nicely expressed something about the band, specifically about Eldritch’s stewardship of it over 30 plus years.
But originally the book was going to have a longer sweep: 1980 to the present. When I cut it down to 1980-1985 I didn’t think ‘Mission And Revenge’ was appropriate, so I renamed it ‘Heaven And A Hope Eternal.’ I even went so far as to design the cover with this title, but I changed it at the last minute.
The main problem was that I found the title a bit soft for a book about a band that articulated an unapologetically masculine aesthetic during the period in question. Also, the implications of the title were a little obvious: an old fan savouring the golden years and hoping for a new album.
‘Waiting For Another War’ recommended itself to me because it implies a more subtle version of the same sentiment: we all want another album, and wars are one of the few things that seem to motivate Eldritch to write new material. So here we are, waiting for another war.
‘Valentine’ was definitely one of my first favourite Sisters tracks, and it is still one of my favourites, so that helped.
In these difficult times how did the book come together ? I am originally from San Francisco and have lived in New York since 1989. I wrote the book in two separate apartments in New York. The first one was in Tribeca, a tiny little studio on the 49th floor overlooking the World Trade Center. Then, years later, I finished the book from a different home on East 7th Street in the East Village. At the very end of 2019, with the book finished but not printed, I moved with my family to a new apartment because we were expecting our second son in April.
Three months later the pandemic struck New York City like a tornado. Unrefrigerated dead bodies were piling up outside NYC hospitals, including the one where we were scheduled to give birth. Husbands were not allowed into delivery rooms. There was a PPE shortage and everyone was panicking. Crime was spiking and summer was around the corner.
I packed up my very pregnant wife and two year old son and we left our home to stay outside the city. Although I sent the final files to the printer from New York City in February, I ended up receiving the shipment of books, signing them, and sending them from a family home in the countryside.
What inspired you to write the book ? I was inspired to write the book because I love the band. Of course, an interest like this waxes and wanes. I loved the 1991 US gigs but for some reason I didn’t really care enough to go to Philadelphia in 1997, a one-hour train ride from New York City. I was in graduate school and I guess I had other things going on. The next year I saw them at The Ritz again in New York City and the fever returned. Since then I’ve flown overseas for gigs, like many other fans. Sisters music has been a constant companion of mine since I was very young and the book is an expression of my passion for the music.
Do any stories stand out – what is your favourite ? I guess my favourite story that I unearthed myself is the story about the band going to a party for Joe Jackson in San Francisco. I know the guy who took them, the club they came from, I know the corner the party was on very well, I know the street, the neighbourhood. I can picture the van ride there, the people, everything, because San Francisco is my hometown. So, apart from the fact that the story is funny, it’s very vivid to me.
Are you planning another book and where is ‘Waiting for Another War’ available ? Yes, I will do at least one more. For the moment, just here (https://www.gkwfilmworks.com/sisters) and eBay. I’m working on Amazon. I may reach out to some record stores in the UK and see if they would like to stock it, because the shipping charges from the USA are prohibitive for some people who might otherwise be interested. But that’s just an idea at this point.
To get an insight into The Sisters of Mercy and the Leeds music scene of the ‘80s go to the excellent blog ‘I Was a Teenage Sisters of Mercy Fan’.
Interview by Gary Alikivi October 2020.