London Roundhouse 20.9.19
Fighting Cocks 1983
One night in January 1983 (I looked it up – it was 21 January), I wandered into the Fighting Cocks pub in Moseley, Birmingham to see the Sisters of Mercy, the princes of 80s darkness. They played from within clouds of dry ice in the pub’s upstairs gig room. I was with my student house mates Andy (AMu), Nige (NCh) and Steve (SLe) – we think – Andy is here tonight along with Wayne (WMo), from school/ teenage gig years, and Dave (DPi).
I can’t remember much about that Moseley gig. It was dark, smokey and over 36 years ago. We were probably wearing second hand big coats and jackets – dead men’s gear from ‘the Digbeth tailors’.
My student housemates returned to the Fighting Cocks in 2015 and had lunch and a few beers there. Some framed posters of 80s gigs were up on the walls, including the legendary Smiths one we missed – we heard about it an hour after it finished, having been in another pub down the road in Balsall Heath…perhaps by pre-mobile carrier pigeon or someone passing on horseback.
The barman sensed our nostalgic excitement at the old Fighting Cocks gigs and asked if we wanted to go up to where the bands used to play. “What? It’s still there?”. “Yeah. No one uses it now: come and have a look.”
He unlocked the door and up we went. It was left virtually untouched from the last gig, decades ago. Dusty old glasses and cans. Holes in the well pounded floorboards. A wonderful accidental museum of rock, indie and post-punk.
After 1983 I didn’t see the ‘Sisters’ again. I listened to them. I had long since mangled and thrown away tapes. No vinyl and picked up some CDs much later. I managed a ‘Mission’ gig in Birmingham with ‘Sisters’ exile Wayne Hussey clambering all over the speakers in Birmingham’s Hummingbird in Dale End….but no ‘Sisters’ gig until tonight.
On to tonight’s gig in London. Fabulous structure, The Roundhouse. A now revamped and reborn arts centre that was once a train engine shed with a turntable prescribing its roundness.
In my teenage London gig going years I never came here despite the lure of half The Stranglers’ Live X-Certs album being recorded here. I finally got to see The Stranglers here about seven years ago and have also made the trip up from Dorset in recent years for The Damned, Killing Joke, House of Love and the magnificent return of The Skids. Top mid-sized venue.
Support band: Amenra
We watched the Belgian (!) support band, Amenra, described by varied metal genres, from the upstairs side bar (members pass gets you in). Hard to take your eyes off this onslaught. The lighting made everything look like an old photo. Neck jerking stuff: lead singer with his back to the crowd for long periods. Maybe the best Belgian rock export since Plastic Bertrand.
Out of darkness they come. Andrew Eldritch and his current Sisters of Mercy: the band has been a very stop-start affair with a considerable turnover of members…including Tony James of Generation X and Sigue Sigue Sputnik (who went to my school in Hampton I discovered recently – where is the blue plaque?).
Maybe our ears are getting worn out but the sound was a bit quiet to start. Maybe too close to the balcony so we moved in a bit. I’m clearly not as well versed in the Sisters’ material as I thought but the early gem for me was ‘Alice’ with ‘Marian’ shortly after. (Full setlist linked below.) ‘Mother Russia’ and ‘Lucretia My Devotion’ were other highlights. Temple of Love was fast and topped by the wonderfully predictable finale of ‘This Corrosion’…”hey now, hey now now”, in our deepest voices…not as deep as Eldritch’s, obviously.
The band were barely visible at times, appearing occasionally in beams of white and red light, with Eldritch’s unmistakable deep voice penetrating the gloom. This wasn’t a retro look back. Not a greatest hits parade. This had the atmosphere of an 80s gig.
Later Eldritch disgarded his black jacket to become the most brightly dressed guy in this dark place, revealing a flowery shirt….even goths have one in the back of the wardrobe then.
They are on for two nights here. I would have loved to have gone to the second, hoping for another variation on tonight’s set list.
Food and drink nearby
No shortage of pubs and other places to eat on Chalk Farm Road. The Enterprise Bar opposite the venue is a lively pub with good ales on but it can get packed and hard to get served before blokey Roundhou8se gigs. Joe’s bar slightly further down on the same side is my preference, especially afterwards with a selection of retro DJ nights running through the week.
We tried the Muang Thai, only 100 metres from the venue for food. Good. I’m sure we will return. Prompt, as required. The Vietnamese down the road near the bridge at Camden Lock is excellent – Thanh Binh. Both good for healthy choices.
Chalk Farm tube station on the Northern Line (Edgeware branch) is best for The Roundhouse but if you have the time a walk up Chalk Farm Road from Camden Town tube station, and the lock if time is on your side.