The Jesus & Mary Chain at The Empire, Middlesbrough – 24th September 2017
Words & Pix – Mel Butler
When your favourite band rocks up into town, it’s kind of a big deal. Well for me, it is. For the first time ever in the 33 year history of The Jesus And Mary Chain, the band were finally going to play on my home turf of Middlesbrough, at The Empire venue. I was not going to miss this momentous occasion. I even delayed my vacation by 48 hours for this.
I have to say I am a bit of a fan girl, ever since the Summer of 1985 when I saw the video for their 3rd single ‘You Trip Me Up’ on an obscure CH4 programme called ‘Max Headroom’. During my teenage years in the late 1980’s, I waited in hope they would pay a visit to either the local Polytechnic (where most bands came to play back then) or the Town Hall Crypt. Sadly not, although I did see former band member John Moore and his Expressway supported Pop Will Eat Itself at the Coatham Bowl, Redcar in 1989.
I have to confess, it’s not the first time I have seen them. In fact this was gig no.9 for me this year alone on their current Damage & Joy tour. This tour started in back in March to coincide with their 7th studio album of the same name.
Having gone through several line-up changes over the years, The Reid brothers – Mr Some Candy Talking frontman Jim and master of distortion William on guitar – have remained the heart and soul of the band. Along with Scott Von Ryper from The Black Ryder, on guitar, Mark Crozer on bass and former Fountains of Wayne drummer Brian Young, The Mary Chain deliver a mixed bag of 20 classic noise-pop delights and new tracks alike.
The Mary Chain perfectly delivered three in a row from their current album – ‘Always Sad’, ‘Black & Blues’ and the serenely hypnotic ‘Mood Rider’.
The chaotic noise of ‘Reverence’ unleashed the infamous buzz-saw guitar feedback from William complete with tongue-in-cheek Stooges ‘I Wanna Be You Dog’ style riffs as Jim howls ‘I wanna die like Jesus Christ’. Quite appropriate for a Sabbath in front of a rather sullen Teesside audience. Maybe Boro FC had lost that weekend, hence a subdued crowd?
Opening the set with guitar-growling ‘Amputation’ from the new album, this was seamlessly followed by the 1987 chart-hit ‘Happy When It Rains’ and the popular, more upbeat ‘Head On’ and ‘Between Planets’ from the 1989 ‘Automatic’ album.
It was an absolute pleasure to hear the sleazy, slinky sound of ‘Snakedriver’ being re-introduced to the current set, along with the melodic yet melancholic ‘Darklands’, sung tonight by Jim, rather than William, though the latter had sung on the original 1987 recording.
The encore was well recieved with THAT song. There was a case of eye-leakage from myself as the opening beats to the dreamy haze of ‘Just Like Honey’ echoed around the venue. That song just gets me every. single. time. Just as Jim is lulling me into a false sense of security, whispering sweet nothings into my ear, brother William interrupts the beautiful moment with the loud, distinctive Duane Eddy-style guitar riff to ‘Cracking Up’.
The Mary Chain boys end the set with the dark and brooding ‘War On Peace’, walking off-stage to the ear-splitting hum of feedback reverberating around the venue as well as my chest cavity.
This band just leaves you wanting more. And they know that.
The Jesus And Mary Chain: Ottakringer Brauerei gig, Vienna in Austria, 14th October 2017. Words & Photos: Sabrina G
It’s 7:45 p.m. and quite a large group of fans gather at the entrance of the Ottakringer Brewery. One or two have spiked-up hair, some have chains attached to their trousers, others wear Nirvana T-shirts but everybody is dressed in black (I think I am the only one with a white Tee). You can easily imagine that many of them know the band from the Psychocandy times; the youngest, from Munki. There are also some young teenagers accompanied by their parents. Are they all Mary Chain fans? Most probably.
Once inside the Brewery, we wait patiently until support act, Cold Cave begin their set. Their Darkwave and Synthpop sounds catches the attention of the crowd, getting them into the mood for the big distort explosion of the Mary Chain. Cold Cave makes us dance but after a couple of songs, we start craving for something more. It will soon arrive.
In the meantime, I head off to the bar for another beer until I could hear the T-Rex song ‘Planet Queen’ telling me the wait is nearly over. Taking a look to the right of the stage and there they are: Scott, Brian, Mark, William and Jim.
The show starts as usual on this tour with their first single ‘Amputation’. Jim looks cool in his ‘Damage and Joy Boy’ tee, black jeans and suede creepers. There are some problems with the mic but not enough to interrupt the show, already reaching high in temperatures. Luckily, there is William to manage it all. His guitar delivery of delightful fuzz takes us far with ‘Happy When It Rains’. Everybody seems to enjoy this moment of bliss. But now Jim struggles with the mic stand. He will end up throwing it down to the technician, who gives it back to him immediately.
The more they play, the more the audience seems to rage. It seems as if we have been waiting them for years. Is it nostalgia or ennui? And what if it was just nostalgia? Aren’t we living in an era obsessed with the past? However, newer tracks like ‘Mood Rider’ comfortably sit between older tracks like ‘Cracking up’ and ‘Head On’. And that may surprise you, just like when Jim sings “I wanna die, I wanna die”, it doesn’t seem over-acted. It is very likely that the Mary Chain are still freaks in some way. But in any case, their live act has something special that lots of people are now enjoying: Jim twisting his body and twirling the mic’s cable while the others members of the band try to drown his voice in a sonic distortion. Take it or leave it.
Someone in the audience starts shouting “Fuck you” rather insistently and with Jim’s answer it didn’t last long: “Why can’t you just stop saying Fuck you? You’re not going to fuck me!”, he says in a pause between two songs, before carrying on with ‘Snakedriver’. By this time everybody’s sweating. The heat is suffocating but some of us can’t stop pogoing. We can even see the sweat drops falling from Jim’s arms. The show reaches its peak with ‘Some Candy Talking’ and ‘Reverence’.
The unpleasant words could have upset Jim and the band, but they come back for a first encore. The Mary Chain want to please; they are no longer in a confrontational mode, even though one should better not provoke Jim too much. They start the second set with the anthemic ‘Just Like Honey’ and the crowd fulfils the role of absent vocalist Bernadette Denning, who had up until now accompanied them in almost all of the Damage and Joy tour dates. The raw and gritty ‘In A Hole’ reminds us of the inextinguishable energy of William’s guitar and Jim’s nonchalant attitude. We are having a great time listening to such an eclectic repertoire. Which band can blend in such an astonishing way pop melodies to punk attitude? Dark lyrics to guitar distortion? Always going from one side to the other, the joy that emerges from their songs is usually the result of contrasting elements.
After their second encore, ‘Sidewalking’ and ‘I Hate Rock n Roll’, all we know for certain is that The Jesus and Mary Chain are better than ever. Their shows are an awesome display of the music style they have created and their undiscussed talent keeps us hanging on hoping that more new material will be soon coming.
Myself and my cameras hit the road for The Jesus And Mary Chain’s Damage & Joy Tour 2017. Photographs taken at: Newcastle Riverside, Manchester Academy, Leeds Church, Leicester O2 Academy, Birmingham O2 Institude, Dublin Academy, Sub 89 Club Reading, The Welly Club in Hull, Middlesbrough and Looe Music Festival in Cornwall.
It happened again but under very different reasons to the emotional meltdown I had back in 1995 at The Jesus And Mary Chain gig at Leeds Met Uni. Back then it was a more personal meltdown, infused with too much alcohol and I had a one way ticket to self destruction. That night ended badly with me turning into a drunken vomit monster over Leeds inner ring road, then dragging my poor gig companion Mick to Le Phono for more drinking and more dancing – although I do not recall much from that night including The Mary Chain’s performance.
August Bank Holiday 2016, myself and my long-suffering Mary Chain widow of a husband John took a train trip to Glasgow for two nights at the O2 ABC Academy to see The Mary Chain.
We set off midday on the Bank Holiday of Monday 29th August from Darlington train station to Glasgow Central station, my excitement was way beyond refrained.
I’ll keep the details of the journey brief – it was pleasant, relaxing and the bottle of White Zinfandel went down a treat. Arrived at Glasgow Central station about 4.30pm, made our way to our hotel which was a 2 minute walk away from the ABC O2 Academy venue. Unpacked, got ready to go out and went off to have a romantic Italian meal and cocktail frenzy with Mr Butler.
Whilst walking past the ABC O2 Academy venue where The Mary Chain were going to perform, Mr Butler revealed some information about himself that he had been consealing for sometime. Back in 1995 when Mr Butler’s fellow housemate Charlie Charlton briefly managed the Mary Chain, Mr Butler saw the Mary Chain at the Mayfair venue in Newcastle – yes I already knew that. But what he failed to tell me he had an Access All Area pass because of Charlie, of which he never used it to his advantage.
Tuesday daytime was spent hanging out in George Square in the 21 degrees sunshine. I was in danger of self combusting in the heat or it could be just the excitement thinking about that night’s entertainment. Late afternoon we returned to our hotel room, so I could start to get ready – yeah I know, its 4.30pm and the venue doors don’t open until 7pm, but I wanted to get ready at leisurely pace, crack open a few cans of pre-mixed Mojitos and remain calm. I had also pre-planned what I was going to wear to reduce the wardobe crisis of “I don’t know what to wear” which happens quite frequently especially at Whitby Goth Weekend as I tend to take my entire wardrobe.
As I swanned about the hotel room getting ready, rapidly getting through my cans of pre-mixed Mojitos, I was feeling calm yet excited. Mr Butler decided to be hunter gatherer and went out in search of feeding his face. He had been gone about 30 minutes when I noticed a message notification on my mobile from him. At first I assumed he has messaged me a photo of some food to ask what I wanted to eat. I was not expecting to see THIS….
My heart literally lept out my mouth. I was incapable of processing any logical thoughts as my tiny pea-brain melted, along with my heart. I had absolutely no idea what to do. Do I immediately leg it out of the hotel, down the street to the exact location where this photo was taken? Running the risk of been runover by a bus? If I made it in one piece, what on earth would I say to him – assuming I could speak inbetween me wheezing and gasping for breath from doing a physical activity I am clearly not built to do. Horror of horrors I had no make up on AND wearing odd boots (I was in the middle of deciding what boots to wear). I was in a blind panic for about 10 minutes. By then, Mr Butler had returned to our hotel room and was confronted with a tsunami of questions.
“Tell me what happened?” I repeatedly asked my husband in a hyper-excited voice.
“Well, I came out of the express supermarket opposite the venue and there he was. So I took that sneaky photo of him for you.”
“I then crossed over the road and walked passed him. I was a couple feet away from him. I went into the venue looking for something for him to sign for you but couldn’t find anything. I did think about getting a selfie taken with him but it might have pissed you off as it wasn’t you with him.”
Are you kidding? My two favourite men in the entire universe together in the same photo. I would have treasured that photo forever.
Once at the venue, the unexpected surprises kept on coming.
“Hey, do you like Strawberry Switchblade?” Some guy asked me as I stood in the foyer, waiting for Mr Butler to return with some much needed funds for alcoholic beverages.
“Erm, yes why?” I looked at him in a puzzling manner wondering why he asked me such a specific question.
Maybe it was the polka dot winklepickers and the huge bouffant mass of black hair that may have been a clue why this random stranger asked me.
“Oh Rose is playing tonight.” He said.
Could tonight get any better? It turns out that the guy who spoke to me was in Rose’s band.
“Is that Rose from Strawberry Switchblade?” My husband asked as we watched Rose’s set.
“I was stood behind her in the supermarket queue.”
At this point I almost dropped my plastic pint of warm lager on the floor along with jaw in complete shock. Not only did my husband spot Jim of the Mary Chain in street, but now this revelation comes to light. Another case of right place, wrong time.
I was absolutely enjoyed Rose’s set – a delightful mix of Strawberry Switchblade tracks and solo work from the album ‘Cut With the Cake Knife’.
The waiting between Rose and The Mary Chain was unbearable. I was totally hyped up with excitement as myself and my very understanding husband was joined at the front of the stage by friend Elayne who had travelled up from Leeds. As soon as The Mary Chain came on stage, I totally lost myself for the duration of their performance. There I was in that happy place in my head. It was bliss. My eyes may have accidently ‘leaked’ during ‘Just Like Honey’. If I could capture and bottle those euphoric emotions and feelings I experience at Mary Chain gigs, I’d be quids in. It’s one of the the best feelings ever.
There I was sat in Nice & Sleazy bar, with Mr Butler, Elayne and also Andrew who had just joined us. I needed a few rum and cokes to get my head sorted from that day’s events as John and Andrew talked shop – mainly about The Sisters of Mercy. I have no idea what I chatted about between my friends as I was still dazed by that day’s events. I kept on muttering to John throughout the rest of the night “I cannot believe you saw Jim!”
Even the several rum and cokes didn’t console my shattered soul.
Day 2 of The Mary Chain gigs
Upon recommendation from both Andrew and Elayne, we ventured up to the Necropolis, a rather magificent Victorian Cemetery, that is revered the world over and considered a feat of architectural brilliance. I was not disappointed. It was like being on a Bob Carlos Clarke photoshoot.
Walking along Sauchiehall Street late that afternoon, I experience something what I can only describe as a panic attack as it suddenly occured to me it was roughly the same time in the day it was when Mr Butler spotted Jim. Oh dear god, what if we did see him. How would I react? What would I say. Would I just stand there, grinning like a besotted fan-girl. The palms of my hands started to feel clammy, I felt sick and I was unable to string a sentance together when spoken to by Mr Butler. I have never experience this. Never. I have met and worked with many musicians I have admired, where I behaved in a professional and calm manner. Maybe because I didn’t have a Photo or AAA pass dangling around my neck to hide behind. Even when I met my two other teen crushes, I was not verging on the hysterical. Maybe because this is no longer a teen crush and has now manifested into something I cannot explain.
I felt that bad, that Mr Butler had to take me into cafe to get a drink as I was shaking with adreneline. We sat down with a couple of coffees next to the window that overlooked the venue. I secretly hoped I would see Jim and William but I couldn’t help but think this is was one click away from stalking and my behaviour was a bit pathetic. I was comparing my fan hysterics to those of a 15 year old Justin Bieber fan. I’m 44 for God sake.
I was over-joyed to have a confirmed sighting, from the safety of the cafe window, of Jim and William as they arrived for the soundcheck. I also sighed with relief as my blood pressure returned to normal.
Upon return to the hotel, went through the usual getting ready ritual and the highlight was me being able to hoist myself into my shiny PVC jeans without splitting them. Oh and the fact my husband wanted to wear my ‘Psychocandy’ T-shirt.
Rose McDowall provided the support act for the 2nd night running. I clapped and cheered a little too loudly and enthusiastically in between songs which was overheard by Rose, who chirped back at me in that soft Glaswegian voice, “Thank you, I love little munchkins.”
Night made 😊.
This maybe the second night on the trot of seeing The Mary Chain perform but I never lose that feeling of excitement and rampaging butterfies in the stomach. This in my addiction in life.
Setlist-wise, both nights the same apart 1 track – The Mary Chain performed 9 Million Rainy Days with it being the 31st August and the 29th anniversary of Darklands album (I guess).
They also performed April Skies, Just Like Honey, Happy When It Rains, Cracking Up, Far Gone & Out, All Things Must Pass, The Living End, Hardest Walk, Never Understand, It’s So Hard, Blues From A Gun, Between Planets, Head On, Half Way To Crazy, Reverence, Teenage Lust and Some Candy Talking. Performed not in that order and I may have missed one or two from the setlist.
I was left with a whole host of emotions as I knew that was the end. No more. Well, until the next Mary Chain gig of which I had no knowledge of when the next was scheduled in my life. Infact the next day I was feeling miserable and deflated in mood which continued well into the following day. A blast on the Ducati didn’t lift my spirits and even the grey, moody sky matched my emotions.
But I didn’t have to wait long, 3 months later the dates were announced for the Damage & Joy Tour 2017.