Sisters of Mercy cornered in Melbourne

They weren’t, of course. I spied just the one fan hovering by the stage exit, and he was fended off by the driver, and then waved off through the glass, clutching his LP as the English trio piled into their escape vehicle.

Inside Melbourne’s packed and venerable shed, The Corner, there were two, perhaps three people wearing white. One was Andrew Eldritch, lead singer and founder and main man of the Sisters of Mercy. Through the constant fog, the bald, sunglassed figure looked astronautical at times; sadly, the image was belied by the reality of the terry towling hoodie. This was rock ‘n’ roll in gym chic. This was NOT GOTH, okay?

The crowd was, largely, so corseted and coiffed, a delight to behold, the goths and the rockabillies and the rock hounds, the veteran fans and the newest generation flocking to see the UK legends roll out 90 minutes of classic not-goth rock. Hm, perhaps best not to write songs such as ‘Lucretia My Reflection’ — an absolute winner tonight, holding up one of the two encores — if you don’t want the children of the night to bulk out your fan base.

Kyla Ward reports from the front line!

Points to Eldritch, his wonderful guitarist and so-active bassist: they changed the set list from last week’s Auckland gig, even whacking the instrumental into the second encore. The hits were still there, of course: ‘More’, ‘Detonation Boulevard’, ‘Vision Thing’, ‘This Corrosion’, ‘Dominion/Mother Russia’, ‘Alice’, the closing ‘Temple of Love’, and others. Unknowns were there, too, moreso thank in NZ if feeble memory serves, allowing the chitter-chatter to rise. My advice, should you be so inclined as to attend this Thursday’s gig, is to get up close, where you can peer through the fog and catch some of the action, and perhaps lip read the lyrics you know so well. Because from the back, Eldritch was largely unintelligible save for those occasional lupine howls, those particularly enunciated choruses.

He was, however, compared to the Auckland outing, verily loquacious, even addressing a couple up the front, and exhorting attendance on Thursday for the band’s second and last sideshow outside the Soundwave festival.

Kudos to the Corner bar staff; have I ever been so quickly, efficiently and politely served at any live venue before?

All of which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy tonight’s gig. The Sisters are formative to me, comfort and mood music, and to hear them play, even in this thoroughly competent and enjoyable incarnation, is a delight. I like Eldritch’s onstage super-cool persona, I love the lights strobing out from the mist, I love the beats and the songs of decay and loss and displacement, the cynicism and world-weariness and the headbanging riffs. It’s rock ‘n’ roll to be lost in and taken away by and moved by. But yes, perhaps, live, best appreciated from up the front.


On time and technique, with Nicole Murphy

Canberra’s Nicole Murphy (The Secret Ones) had me over at her blog recently to gab (in two parts) about the technical stuff — how to organise a writing schedule, look after health and get stuck into the words. It’s always fun, though perhaps also confronting, answering questions such as Nicole’s, because it makes you check the balance between intentions and practice. Note to self: must get act together and get nose to writing grindstone.

Sisters of Mercy bring it on home in Auckland

It was the gig I excpected it to be. The gig I’d waited 20 years or so for. The Sisters of Mercy — well, founder and main man Andrew Eldritch with a guitarist, bassist and laptop wrangler — live and loud at Auckland’s Powerstation on Wednesday night.

It was a no-nonsense set-up. A plain, industrial stage dressing of pipes, guitar, bass, smoke machines working so hard the band sometimes vanished. And holding court, Eldritch – bald, sunglasses, goatee, military blacks. Delivering virtual spoken word in uber cool style, cigarette in hand as he whispered and moaned into the mic. For an hour and a half. Song after song, notorious drum machine Dr Avalanche not giving a moment to pause.

They offered a playlist to die for: an assortment of hits, b-sides and a couple of unrecorded tunes including ‘Summer’, played to an ecstatic full house. A young crowd with a presentable smattering of overt goths. Not enough to rankle the infamous goth-shy Eldritch, or if so, he made no comment. In fact, he said barely a word that wasn’t a lyric.

‘Ribbons’ opened. There was ‘Dominion’, ‘First and Last and Always’, ‘Detonation Boulevard’, ‘Alice’, ‘Vision Thing’, ‘More’ (not the 12″!) … and two (albeit seemingly scripted) thumping encores featuring a highlight of the night in ‘Lucretia My Reflection’ and a strangely uninspiring ‘Temple of Love’ to close.

Underpinning it all were those familiar, at times repetitive beats, lashings of superb guitar, a stray wish for a drummer to help kick things up and around a bit. Eldritch was a little hard to hear early in the piece, but there was no denying the power of the constant battering to transport the listener. Twenty years in the waiting, and the Sisters did not disappoint, even if they didn’t surprise.

Bring on Melbourne, where they play two gigs at the Corner in their only non-Soundwave tour appearance Down Under!

Aurealis #47 in the wild

aurealis magazine issue 47

Very pleased to say that Aurealis #47 is available for download, for $2.99, at Smashwords. It features a Greek mythology story from Jenny Blackford and my Aussie dark fantasy, ‘Breaking the Wire’, plus loads of other tasty tidbits such as punchy reviews and links to recent happenings in spec fic. The download is free for subscribers.

It’s also worth noting that Aurealis is once again open to submissions. It publishes 10 issues a year in the newly adopted digital format.

Aussies in Bram Stoker Awards running

Congratulations to the Aussies who have crossed the sea to make the final ballot for the Bram Stoker horror awards (five I’m aware of made the long list):

Kaaron Warren for her short story ‘All You Do Is Breathe’ in Blood and Other Cravings.

Jack Dann as editor (with Nick Gevers) for Ghosts by Gaslight.

Rocky Wood for his non-fiction Stephen King: A Literary Companion. Note that Rocky’s Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished
has been updated with a Q&A from the King himself, with profits to go Rocky’s ALS Fund. Available as pre-order only from Overlook Connection Press.

The Courier’s New Bicycle delivers a worthy message

This is the fourth book I’m reading as part of my list of 10 for the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge

AWWNYRC#4: The Courier’s New Bicycle

By Kim Westwood
HarperVoyager, 2011, ISBN: 978 0 7322 8988 1

couriers new bicycle by kim westwood

WHAT a fascinating picture Kim Westwood paints of dystopian Melbourne, right from the striking Darren Holt-designed cover. Australia has been ravaged by a flu vaccination gone wrong – I can hear the shouts of told you so from the anti-vac lobby from here – with the result that fertility levels have fallen through the floor. The religious right has ascended to an almost Orwellian command of the government and the streets, patrolling morality with a puritanical fervour that would make the Rev Nile dance the snoopy dance. Hormones are a hot property in a society where reproduction is a struggle.

Our journey into this well-rendered terrain is through the eyes of Salisbury Forth, a bicycle courier whose life has been characterised by a fight for acceptance of her transgender status. She identifies as androgynous, meaning even her family shun her. Sal (the story is told in first person, so eliminating annoying pronoun conflicts) found a measure of freedom inside the underground community of the inner city, ‘pedalling’ hormone and liberating factory animals; it’s only a matter of time, of course, till the wheels come off.

Intrigue on an almost cyberpunk level ensues as bad drugs are sold, corporate interests clash, desires stoke the belief that the ends justify the means.
Issues of sexuality and identity, and the prejudice levelled against the perceived ‘other’ by the ‘moral majority’, are key issues, and Westwood puts us firmly in the saddle.

The story is narratively more straightforward and the prose more accessible than in her previous, debut title, The Daughters of Moab, a post-apocayptic Australian tale which likewise evoked a most believable world.

australian women writers challenge 2012It’s refreshing that in CNB there are no action heroes; while the world dips into science fiction concepts rooted firmly in the here and now – glow-in-the-dark pets, anyone? say no to battery farming? – the characters are uniformly of the average human variety. They get tired, they make mistakes, they hurt.

There were two minor speed bumps in my reading of the novel, and both probably reflect more on my reading habits than Westwood’s skill and style.

the first was a preponderance of info dumps filling in details about the back story, particularly early on as the stage was being set. There’s a certain level that fits the noir tradition that this story draws on so well, but there’s also a limit to just how much is needed at any one time without interfering with the story, or indeed, interrupting conversations.

The second, equally minor, annoyance was the Salisbury ‘voice’. For a young person who left home at 16, has limited formal education and lives an unsettled life, Sal’s vocabulary is extraordinarily wide and her knowledge of art likewise remarkable. Unfairly assumptive and prejudicial? Perhaps.

These quibbles can’t diminish the impact of Westwood’s world and the gender and social issues she explores. Atmospheric, considered, with likeable characters in a fascinating world: bravo.

Previous Challenge reviews:

  • The Road, by Catherine Jinks, horror.
  • The Shattered City, by Tansy Rayner Roberts, fantasy.
  • Frantic, by Katherine Howell, crime.
  • Andrew McGahan’s White Earth chosen for Our Story

    white earth by andrew mcgahan

    As part of the National Year of Reading, the Our Story program set out to select one text from each state and territory to fly the flag for a reading campaign. Six titles were shortlisted for each; the winners were announced earlier today.

    Queensland’s book is The White Earth, by Andrew McGahan, and it’s a cracker story. It riffs off the Mabo land rights decision and the incredible fear and uncertainty in rural Australia about the right to continue to live on and work land that had, in some instances, been in the same family for several generations. A lot of terra nullius talk, a lot of right wing clap trap, some very real concerns.

    McGahan draws on his childhood in setting the piece on the Darling Downs, where a young boy and his widowed mother come to live on their grandfather’s property, there to see the politics of the era played out and to uncover some unsettling family truths harking back to the days of white occupation and settlement.

    The other finalists in the Queensland selection were:

  • Affection, by Ian Townsend (Townsville, 1900, the plague, a social scandal)
  • Brisbane, by Matthew Condon (one in a series of capital city ‘biographies’)
  • House on the Hill, by Estelle Pinney (romance in the west)
  • Journey to the Stone Country, by Alex Miller (a collision of colonial past and the impact in the present present)
  • The Tall Man, by Chloe Hooper (Doomadgee and Palm Island under the microscope, with a wider view).