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.


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!

Looking for words in the rabbit hole


Queensland Writers Centre CEO Kate Eltham played the white rabbit, and a bunch of we Alices gave chase: the goal, 30,000 words in three days. Some gathered in Brisbane while others of us, the diaspora of Queensland writers and other interested parties, joined in online, sharing totals and motivational mentions of caffeine.

How liberating to be given permission to abandon all but the most major of priorities in order to devote three solid days to wordage. For wordage was the goal; quality could come later. The aim was to get that story down, or at least a solid chunk of it.

My goal was a little different, though. I’d already hammered out a bit over 90K of a novel, but I had to write and insert a second point of view character to help fill in some gaps, add some suspense and provide some contrast. It’s a fairly brutal story, this one; moments of levity are to be grabbed wherever they can be had!

ms pages on a kitchen table

There's a story in there somewhere: grappling with scene progression.

I thought I had eight scenes to write, expecting no more than 1000 to 2000 words for each, and it turned out I had 10 to write, and they amounted to about 11,000 words. It took two days, averaging maybe 500 words an hour. Some of the other rabbit holers did meet their 10,000 words a day quota — w00t!

The third day of the rabbit hole was devoted to smoothing out those new scenes, reconfiguring the existing text to accommodate the new material and ensuring continuity. As is the way of things, a whole new character emerged, with enough legs to play a bigger role in a follow-up should such a thing occur. I’m tempted to call her Alice, in honour of the rabbit hole, but I’ve already got a character with that name tucked away waiting for her chance in the spotlight, so for the moment she’s Felicity because A. she’s felicitous and a felicitator but, ironically, not particularly happy, and B. I still owe two sisters a character named after them after inadvertently slipping an Amanda cameo into The Darkness Within. I have managed to slip in an Alice nod to the rabbit hole, though; I hope it survives to the final cut.

In tribute, here’s a cool clip of the Sisters of Mercy performing Alice, one of my favourite SoM songs and the inspiration for the aforementioned character in waiting. Note: The Sisters are touring with Soundwave Revolution: this is very exciting.

So, three days of fairly solid wordsmithing later, what have I got other than square eyes and a slight case of jetlag?

About 108,000 words of first draft manuscript littered with notes and sporting a most satisfying cross-hatch at the end (the mystical The End only comes when the draft is ready to be subbed — that is truly The End). And the possible beginning for a short story: what could be the second to come out of this universe.

Will the MS go anywhere? Well, that’s always the question, isn’t it? But the story feels good — rough but good — and, regardless, I enjoyed myself in my plunge down the rabbit hole, bumped into some new writers online and learnt some stuff along the way. Would I do another rabbit hole? Most definitely. It’s a three-day trip, man. Just ask Alice.

Keyed up over the death of the typewriter?

typewriter keys

This article in the Guardian offers a lament for the loss of the typewriter, largely redundant in the computer age. They site also has a gallery of wordsmiths with their weapons of choice.

I battled away with my mother’s little portable manual for a while there, but I hated that I had to pound the keys to make them strike, and the way they would bite at my fingers when I mis-placed them. And then there was the correction chalk strips, the backspacing, the way the last line would go wonky when I tried to squeeze too many on the page… How blessed was the day for all concerned — me creating and especially my teachers no longer battling with my handwriting — when I got my Commodore 64, a word processor and a dot matrix printer.

I don’t miss the typewriter, clunky and heavy and cumbersome, but I take note of this line from Paul Bailey’s article, even though I’m sure those who write longhand or with typewriter are just as capable of wanking on — though the editing process would be a lot more arduous:

Bad writing is always bad, but I have a feeling that the computer is there to make it worse. It encourages self-indulgence, the very worst literary sin.

So in celebration or memoriam, here’s a gratuitous YouTube clip of the Sisters of Mercy’s ‘Ribbons’:

the top 150 songs of all time … or not

Music’s an amazing force, isn’t it? I can’t think of another artform that has such power to unite, polarise and divide. Dissemination is comparatively easy, sharing to a mass audience ridiculously so (if you can get them to listen, and there’s the rub).

So when a media outlet, as is their wont, publishes a list of, well, anything really, but music in particular, you can bet they’re really just spoiling for an argument. My mate, Noel Mengel, the chief music writer at The Courier-Mail, has set himself up as a clay target by listing his best 150 songs of all time, even as he acknowledges it’s such a subjective topic as to be almost meaningless. He says he’s a product of his time, as are, I will hazard, we all. Alas, there isn’t a lot of synthesiser in Noel’s list, nor down-tuned guitars. And he hasn’t tried to reach out to cover all genres, all movements, not even those amazing songs that have defined eras and forged new musical directions. It’s upapologetically heart on sleeve stuff, which got me thinking: what does it for me? And why? And just how bloody hard would it be to try to make such a list?!

So I’m giving it a go. Herewith, 30 old friends, the tunes that’ve stuck with me through thick and thin, or serve as milestones on the journey:

Love Will Tear Us Apart, Joy Division: The song came out after Ian Curtis killed himself, highlighting the sheer bloody waste. I often wonder what words he could’ve delivered to us had he hung on in there. The song is an obvious choice, a regular favourite on Triple J radio’s ‘best of’ lists. I once maintained it was my favourite love song, but of late, I’m less sure. I still wear the t-shirt, though!

Hurt, Nine Inch Nails: As with Joy Division, or any of one’s favourite bands, trying to pick the definitive song is a mission impossible – especially given the strength of NIN’s debut album, Pretty Hate Machine. Favourites change, from mood to mood, moment to moment. But this is an unforgettable song (from The Downward Spiral), Trent Reznor in his maudlin, angst-ridden glory. See also the reflective version by Johnny Cash.

Scarred, Johnette Napolitano: The lead singer of Concrete Blonde, Napolitano possesses one of the most distinctive, emotive voices in rock, and a gift for deft lyricism. Scarred, from the album of the same name, is a coming of middle-age song, acceptance of the path that’s been trodden, the journey ahead and the ultimate end of the road.

Bloodletting (The Vampire Song), Concrete Blonde: Horror writer, remember? So given the uniform strength of the CB songlist, why not go with the one with bite — New Orleans by night, creatures of the night, and a swaggering bass beat. Yummy.

Personal Jesus, Depeche Mode: Time for a dance? This one never fails to get the foot tapping. Johnny Cash also covered this, sublimely.

More, Sisters of Mercy: Predictable for an ’80s Goth tragic such as moi, but it’s a crowd-pleaser from the pretentious tosser who largely introduced me to the genre of Goth rock — even if Andrew Eldritch is too up himself to acknowledge his fan base.

Edie (Ciao Baby), The Cult: Ian Astbury has a set of lungs with few rivals, a Jim Morrison aura, and as this tune reveals, a strong interest in Andrew Warhol and his coterie of muses. Another band with such a massive catalogue of hits and dancefloor favourites, I went for something less obvious than She Sells Sanctuary.


Sister Awake, The Tea Party: Speaking of Jim, The Tea Party frontman Jeff Martin is another with a leonine presence and a gift for poetic lyrics, sometimes obtuse. Haven’t been to a Tea Party/Martin gig yet without being skewered through my emotional centre by one song or another.

Bela Lugosi’s Dead, Bauhaus: It’s long, it’s atmospheric, it name-checks one of my favourite actors from one of the best vampire movies ever made (that’s another list!), and I can’t hear it without thinking of those nights on the dance floor, wreathed in smoke from the fog machine, barely moving to this hypnotic beat. And of course, it was used in unforgettable fashion in the movie The Hunger.

Vienna, Ultravox: If you’re not going to send the kids home from the club with Bela Lugosi’s Dead, then this synth pop classic is another apt choice for bringing down the curtain.

Reckless (Don’t Be So), Australian Crawl: Classic Aussie rock from a classic Aussie band, poking their tongues at middle class pretension and generally having a hell of a good time. The Crawl were huge during my high school years, still love ‘em. Along with Icehouse, INXS, The Church, Divinyls … ah, those were the days…

Do You Love Me, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: It’s raw, it’s dark … duh, I hear you say.

Back in Black, AC/DC: Headbangers of the world unite. Shared some good red-eye drives down the coast with my uni mates with Acca Dacca keeping our eyes open.

The Night, Heart: The Canadian sisters were at their height in the 80s with some rather saccharine power rock, but their depth goes further, melding folk, rock and a touch of world music a la their heroes Led Zeppelin. The Night, from the Brigade album, is about a vampire. At least, that’s my interpretation.

Kashmir, Led Zeppelin: Love the funereal beat, though Stairway to Heaven would be a more logical choice.

Paranoid, Black Sabbath: Where would we be without Ozzy and co? Somewhere nicer, but definitely nowhere as interesting!


Black Night, Deep Purple: Completing the triumvirate of classic ‘heavy metal’ founders, this track should be mandatory on all driving compilations.

Nothing Else Matters, Metallica: My sister introduced me to Metallica’s Black album, for which I’ll always be thankful. She had far less success with her Mariah Carey fetish.

Epic, Faith No More: Not my favourite FNM song, but memorable for being the one I *didn’t* like until my Carey-lovin’ sister and I went to their gig and were knocked out by their performance. Mike Patton is a genius. I think.

The Thrill is Gone, BB King: Tellin’ it like it is. The beauty of the blues is, it can make you tap your foot and nod your head at the same time as it tears out your heart.


New Orleans, Louisiana Gator Boys and the Blues Brothers: From the Blues Brothers 2000 soundtrack, an album played repeatedly by a good friend in Canada while we were driving to the Rockies and back, ahead of a trip to New Orleans. Good times… file with Baby, Please Don’t Go (Lightnin’ Hopkins, for starters), House of the Rising Sun (Animals) and Summer Breeze (Type O Negative version) for other N’Awlins-evoking tunes.

Creep, Radiohead: Oh the angst! Still the only Radiohead song I’ve bought. That whiney Thom Yorke voice kind of works on this one. Check out the Amanda Palmer ukelele version!

Angel, Massive Attack: Came late to these too-cool dudes, but this track offers lovely sentiment and reminds me of the gang I used to hang with when I first moved to Brisbane.

Wild is the Wind, David Bowie: I bought a best of with this song on it after hearing an interview with Bowie in which he said this song probably offered his most authentic voice. It’s a beautiful cover from one of the modern era’s true musical geniuses.

Proud Mary, Tina Turner: Blew me away live, this rollicking ode to paddle steamers on the Mississippi. Creedence do an awesome version, too.


Born on the Bayou, Creedence Clearwater Revival: Another southern homage that gets the foot tapping, conjuring memories of my favourite city. If you get a chance to see John Fogerty in concert, take it!

Walk This World, Heather Nova: A song that strikes straight at my wanderlust, best shared with someone special. The lovelorn might like to check out her London Rain, too.

Rio, Duran Duran: Another ’80s holdover, from one of the few albums I distinctly remember buying. On cassette, in Darwin!

Cities Lie in Dust, Siouxsie and the Banshees: Appropriate or otherwise, I’ll always remember this tune playing through my mind pretty much all day on September 12, 2001. From one of Goth rock’s truest characters and longest survivors.

Principles of Lust, Enigma: The MCMXC AD album was already a favourite, but it’s indelibly imprinted on my mind as the soundtrack to driving past fields at dawn in a Romanian taxi, heading to the Hungarian border after a paperwork issue resulted in my being removed from a train.

Thirty songs. Thirty moments in time, some fixed, some still unwinding. With new milestones ahead, either yet to be written or simply yet to be discovered. Viva la music!

vampire in Venice

I guess it makes sense that someone with a blog called ‘vampires in the sunshine state’ would have several friends direct his attention to this story about a ‘vampire’ discovered in a plague grave in Venice that has been doing the rounds on the net for the past couple of days.

It reminds me of the excellent, if slow, movie Vampires in Venice starring Klaus Kinski.

Which further reminds me of the plague imagery in his remake of Nosferatu.

References to the shroud in the Reuters article isn’t something you see used much in vampire movies. The most obvious one that comes to mind is The Vampire Lovers, with the unforgettable Ingrid Pitt.

Mention of the shroud reminds me of the band, The Shroud, who do a lovely cover of Alice, the Sisters of Mercy song.

Now, Alice sparks name recognition with my mate, Alice Henderson, who has just released what I believe is a pretty neat book called Voracious, given Alice is right at home camping out in all weather in the mountains, and her book draws heavily on that experience. That and the fact that she’s written Buffy books. Way cool.

All of which is a highly convoluted way of suggesting you check out Alice’s book. :)