“You and me, we are Blood Brothers”: Three nights on a boat with The Mission Print E-mail
Written by Nev Brooks & Johnny H   
Saturday, 27 April 2013 04:00

That The Mission have continued past their 25th anniversary of 2011 – a year which saw mainman Wayne Hussey reunited with his original partners in crime bassist Craig Adams and guitarist Simon Hinkler - is more testament to the band’s songwriting legacy than any resulting mainstream success. So here we are in 2013 and the guys along with drummer Mike Kelly are now looking to address the second part of my opening gambit by recording their first studio album together since 1990’s ‘Carved In Sand’ for their new American record label End Records.

 

Never the conventional types, in preparation for the recording of this as yet untitled record, The Mission have seen fit to resurrect one of their touring alter egos, the Blood Brothers, by way of road testing their most recent songwriting bag in front of some of the luckiest of the band’s vast legion of fans.

 

News of a three night extravaganza where Blood Brothers would headline one of our favourite venues in the UK right now – the good ship Thekla over in Bristol - spread like wildfire through the interweb, and originally here at URHQ it was myself and Dom Daley who were lucky enough to bag ourselves a VIP 3 day pass, going for the princely sum of £33. (Yup that’s £33 for 3 gigs, hang your head in shame supposed kings of doom Black Sabbath, especially when it was then announced that supporting the Blood Brothers would not only be The Mission themselves but also ex Spear of Destiny /Theatre Of Hate main man Kirk Brandon.) But as our weekend of gothness loomed large over an ever darkening horizon and with my mate out West still transforming himself into our very own version of the Six Million Dollar Jack, it was left to one of my very own blood brothers Nev Brooks (for without him I would not be here today to write this for you) to pick up the laminate of doom and journey with me into the very bowls of Mission-mania.

 

What follows is the story of 3 nights spent in the company of some of the most dedicated music fans you’ll find anywhere in the world today, because “you and me, we are Blood Brothers”

 

THURSDAY (Nev Brooks)

 

Mission thurs 1I have always professed to having a soft spot for The Mission so when Johnny H informed me that my presence was required (as an elder statesman regarding the world of goth), I was more than happy to oblige, and hopefully our man out West’s new Biometrics kick in soon, better/stronger/faster - sorry wrong show!

 

Deciding on an early start myself and the H Bomb discussed earlier viewings of the band and a thrice cancelled Newport Centre gig, where the fates conspired to try and stop us ever seeing a band at their peak and so began a touch of Déjà vu with serious road accidents appearing left right and centre, and at one point a nine mile tailback was eating into an early start time, but our resident taxi driver and owner of Johnny H tours (eventually) succeeded in bypassing it all, seemingly with suitable ease, if not we would probably still be on route now.

 

We arrived within the bowels of the Thekla to a band on stage complete with fake beards? And quickly realise we are two songs into…well I’m not quite sure what, but it’s not exactly what I expected. We are in fact hearing the new LP from The Mission in its very early stages of being developed, so it’s not quite in all its gothic pomp and majesty, but definitely the songs being worked on sound like they are edging towards past splendours.

 

As our Wayne gulped from his bottle of red (some things never change, it’s just that the vintage improves) we had from what we could pick up a tune called ‘Sometimes Even The Brightest Light Comes From The Darkest Place’, a real builder in power and intensity, ‘Ain’t No Prayer In The Bible Can Save You’ giving a classic spinal tap moment out front when someone onstage or near it obviously had forgotten to turn off their mobile, the resulting buzzing through the PA not quite picking up a local taxi firm – thankfully. Things were tied off neatly for the first set, with what could be the two stand out tracks of the night so far and ultimately potentially the new LP, ‘Everything But The Squeal’ is a real glam rock foot to the floor stomper, whilst ‘Swan Song’ is another of the Zeppelin-esque/goth builders that sounds like it is destined to sit within the “classic Mission” song pile.

 

As Wayne said though “the titles are open to change”. And then they were gone.

 

Following the opening set and with the clock just passing 8pm we (well, as in me) had a surprise addition to the bill, in the shape of Kirk Brandon, he was suddenly in my sightline delivering an acoustic solo set sometimes aided by backing tracks. Now Mr Brandon’s vocals are very much an acquired taste, no sitting on the fence, you either like or loathe him, for me I sit very much on the like side, my Uber Rock compadre for the evening meanwhile is very much on the other! Without putting too much into it stand out tracks were the classics ‘Never Take Me Alive’ and ‘West World’. Good stuff..

 

Mission thurs 2Finally after a very quick band changeover (well you have to be when on a 10pm curfew) we are into the Blood Brothers, and immediately we have Wayne Hussey back but this time in fully animated rock star mode, clean shaven (as in he’s ditched the fake beard) and in your face, we strap ourselves in and prepare for the intimate gig experience only these types of venues can offer. Only tonight things just keep getting better and better through the likes of ‘Serpent’s Kiss’ which literally explodes in our faces, whilst a rampant ‘Severina’ unleashes a mosh pit that would not look out of place in any NYHC gig.

 

‘Sacrilege’ too was simply stunning, and that's before ‘Wasteland’ kicks in with the obligatory dove petals being unleashed from within the crowd (Thank you Rob Watkins for that gothic gem). Then to finally finish off the worshipping crowd we get battered with the night’s stand out double header ‘Deliverence’ and the solitary encore ‘Tower Of Strength’ complete with a multitude of audience skyscrapers, I just wish I’d been in a position to catch the bottle of red thrown into the crowd by Hussey right at the end. Damn. Did I mention the absolutely blinding version of ‘Sacrilege’? Good.

 

With one night down and two to go my only thought at this stage is “how are they going to top that?”

 

FRIDAY (Johnny H)

 

With no Tolkien-esque script to play out our relatively short journey over the second Severn crossing for the second night of the Mission’s residency, myself and Nev Brooks even had time for a gentle stroll along Bristol’s cosmopolitan harbour side before entering into the belly of the beast that is the the Thekla. Reminiscing about times gone by spent in this most finest of English cities being the ideal way to prepare yourself for what follows next, largely because it kind of clears the mind when you face an hour of material that most people had only heard for the first time the night before. It expunges the nostalgia so to speak so you can then truly start to appreciate the sound of the NEW Mission.

 

Mission Fri 1

 

Entering the venue’s prime (and for most) secret vantage point – it’s balcony - to be greeted by a wall of dry ice and ambient guitar driven soundscapes, the previous night’s bearded version of The Mission were back in rather loose fitting beachwear, and edging oh so slowly into a track we must have missed the previous night, a track called ‘Black Cat Bone’. Slow and menacing it as Nev said of the previous night’s set bears all the hallmarks of classic Mission but with a modern edge to it that bodes well for what follows. Premiering two extra songs tonight, the uptempo ‘More Than The Truth’ and the countrified (for that read it sounds exactly like ‘Wild Horses’ by The Rolling Stones) ‘When The Trap Clicks’, the raggle taggle rehearsal feel of the previous night was largely dispelled, albeit for a few cock ups here and there that eventually resulted in grandiose set closer ‘Swan Song’ being played twice. It is as my colleague rightly pointed out this song that perhaps stands out from the bunch, perhaps because it also contains one of Wayne Hussey’s most assured vocal refrains in over two decades, the uplifting "It ain’t over till it’s over” falsetto looming large to the song’s outro, etching itself into your psyche so much so people are already singing along. As the album starts to reveal itself in front of our eyes perhaps the most intriguing aspect about this very special type of event, other than the music, is watching the band dynamic outside of a normal live setting. Wayne Hussey still very much the driving force behind things sits bottle of wine in hand his lyrics strewn everywhere, Craig Adams meanwhile has his head down concentrating whilst seemingly filing his lyrics colour coded within a neat wipe clean folder, As for Slink, he just seems happy to go with the flow, added the six string light and shade to what sounds like a mighty fine record in the making.

 

With the venue packed to bursting point I can’t really risk leaving such a fantastic viewing position as the one row balcony offers during Kirk Brandon’s 30 minute set, I’d like to that’s for sure, but for the second night in a row I stand and absorb the finer points of tunes like ‘Sex Slave’, and ‘Love Is A Ghost’, but I simply just don’t get it. It all sounds like pirate torch songs to me, and if Brooksy’s claim that Brandon never made it big is because of his unorthodox vocal stylings are in fact true then I can certainly believe it.

 

At this band changeover point I still kind of had the half thought roaming around in my head that Blood Brothers might end up playing the same set as the previous night, but knowing just how adaptable the band are that didn’t stick around for long, because never mind how good the Thursday night was, the set list for Friday was just about to get a whole lot better (if that was at all possible).

 

Mission Fri 2

 

It didn’t take long for the night’s first and only shower of dove petals to set the scene as opener ‘Wasteland’ sent the twisting and already perspiring throng down on the dancefloor off into a mass frenzy, and for the next hour it was pretty much heads down see you at the end latter day Mission (as in up to around 1991) as the likes of ‘Hands Across The Ocean’, ‘Grips Of Disease’ and ‘Belief’ all sped past with barely time for us to catch a breath.

 

When the brief lulls did come they were filled with the beauty of tracks like ‘Butterly On A Wheel’ and Kingdom Come’ so the intensity of the previous night’s show was not just matched by tonight it was in fact probably taken up a few notches, well for yours truly at least, largely because those two aforementioned tunes really hit a chord with me tonight, making me realise just how important a part of my life The Mission has played over the years, they gave me hope, as in they gave me something to aspire to, and most of all they took me out of my day to day life during a time when I really needed it most.

 

Closing tonight’s show exactly as they did the previous night with ‘Deliverance’ and the as always cataclysmic encore of ‘Tower Of Strength’ this was a celebration of great songs in the company of some great people, would we be giving Saturday a miss then Brooksy? Would we fuck.

 

SATURDAY (Nev Brooks)

 

Heading back across the Severn Bridge into a truly breathtaking weather scene for the final day of our Blood Brothers experience it seemed a stunningly appropriate visual backdrop to the gothic jigsaw puzzle being put together over on the good ship Thekla for a potential masterwork of the genre, but what were were we to expect tonight?

 

Mission Sat 3

 

With a hope that they might finally treat us to ‘Stay With Me’ we were running a few minutes late due to a a prior engagement, but we were soon entering the belly of the beast to be greeted by what seemed like the biggest swell of people so far for the opening Mission set. Three nights in the band and fans were more certain of the new songs, the main bulk of the set having grown and developed whilst others have made fleeting appearances, needless to say they point towards a re-energised and refocused band hitting the future head on unlike perhaps some of their contemporaries (step up to the plate Baron Von Eldritch!) Again tonight we have another two newbies within the opening set, 'Drag' and 'From The Oyster To The Pearl' a track which whilst plowing that not so much country furrow, also has an element of The Men They Couldn’t Hang about it, again illustrating a level of songwriting maturity that has grown to incorporate other styles within losing nothing of the classic Mission sound and feel. Three days in and now the other tracks that have remained constant through all three sets have really taken shape, my personal fave 'Swan Song' is simply immense, but I must admit this is closely followed by 'Everything But The Squeal'.  There are other burners 'Sometimes Even The Brightest Light' is growing into its tempo, 'Ain't No Prayer In The Bible” meanwhile has begun to pull at the emotional strings and 'Black Cat Bone' is getting slower and darker, dragging it’s weighty carcass into classic Nick Cave territory. With the aforementioned 'Swan Song' once again bringing the first set to a close as on previous nights a final thought rings through my head, which is,  “I wish all bands would do this!” as a fan it's been engrossing to see the new music grow, change tempo, and finally explode before my eyes, so for anyone out there looking for a potential twist to any upcoming Pledge albums - here it is. Watch the album being written!

 

Up next also as per previous nights we were then into night three with Mr Brandon and a moment that H Bombz had been talking about all the way across the water (ha ha), discussing whether the set would be the same yet again. Well surprise surprise tonight it wasn't, Kirk choosing to open with 'Sex Slave' I caught a sneaky glance at Johnny H singing along before “by george” we are into 'Love Is A Ghost' - ahem, a song about unrequited love, this for me is a a real tear jerker. Tonight's other standouts are the Frank Sidebottom-esque dance Kirk does during 'So In Love With You' which along with 'West World' are played as they should be with a kick ass band backing him, namely tonight, messrs Adams and Kelly. As a Brandon fan albeit not a rabid one, one night was good, two nights were bearable but after three, well even I struggled.

 

Mission Sat 2With barely ten minutes up on the clock for the band changeover we were suddenly into the final set from Blood Brothers and opener ‘Beyond the Pale'.  Wow, the hairs on my arms were stood up straight up at this point, I certainly wasn’t expecting that, the stark realisation that had hit my gig going compadre the previous night had suddenly caught me full on, that being how much this band actually meant to me first time around. This was before a burning 'Serpents Kiss' was blown our direction tighter and faster than the first night, before another personal favourite gets its first airing in “And The Dance Goes On', then we are quickly into 'Naked And Savage' - which the as always energetic crowd are happy to reenact - shirts off and dancing like loons. 'Into The Blue', Sacrilege' and 'Blood Brother' all steam past like a gothic freight train then after a fair bit of teasing we do finally get the anthemic 'Stay With Me” closely followed by the equally elegant  'Butterfly On A Wheel' before the usual suspects finished the set, 'Deliverance' and 'Tower of Strength' see Wayne Hussey walking across the audience Iggy style, before collapsing back onto the stage. Theatrical, intense and for sheer raw emotion this set just couldn’t be bettered.

 

So after spending almost seven hours in the company of The Mission spread out over six sets with not one set ever having the same set of songs played, how can I conclude this mammoth special feature other than by saying this. Shame on you the bands that shamefully rip off your loyal fans with the same set night in night out, take a leaf out of the Mission's book of gig etiquette, or would that be too much like hard work for some of you?

 

Highlights of these three very special nights were many but for me some of the choicest moments were 'Garden Of Delight' on night one, 'Kingdom Come' from the second night, the whole of the third night, whilst not forgetting the cover versions added on night two, of 'All Along The Watchtower' which seamlessly segued into the final line from 'Stairway To Heaven' plus the timeless ‘Like A Hurricane'. But the real overall highlight? Being a part of the new songs developing before your eyes - this was simply mesmerising.

 

I cannot close without wishing Uber Rock's very own version of the Bionic man a swift recovery because without his kindness I would not have had the opportunity to have witnessed these very special trio of shows, just remember “names are for tombstones baby!”

 

Mission Sat 1

 

 

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