Reviews

All I Know For Sure: The Making of First And Last And Always

by Robert Cowlin

Black Planet lyrics

The date is Saturday 2 June 1984. By invitation of WEA Records, a young Dave Allen stands amongst the throng at Amsterdam’s Melkweg concert venue. Presiding over the audience are three guitarists, two in cowboy hats and the other a rampaging hulk who careers around the stage whilst abusing his instrument; and a velvet-draped shadowy figure mated to a microphone stand as if it were a morphine drip. The PA stacks throb under the pounding weight of a Roland drum-machine, spitting forth a constant melee of machine-beat Armageddon. The band Allen has come to see is The Sisters Of Mercy, and their new distributor – WEA – wants him to produce the band’s debut LP. Allen was fast becoming well known for his audio engineering and production work on records suited to night-time listening. Having just finished producing The Cure’s top ten hit record The Top (Fiction Records, 1984), and previously honing his talents on The Human League’s Dare (Virgin, 1981), Allen was high on WEA’s list and – it would seem – Andrew Eldritch’s, who would swiftly send a telegram to Allen stating: “The Sisters say ‘yes’ to David Allen”[1].

Two days after the Amsterdam gig (which has been extensively bootlegged thanks to a superb soundboard recording of the event), The Sisters’ first set of recordings for WEA were released in the form of Body And Soul. A twelve inch EP, consisting of four tracks, and a seven inch single backed with “Train”. Written and produced by Eldritch, the twelve inch boasted “a re-recorded version of ‘Body Electric’ (this time recorded on 24-track rather than the original version on 8-track) and the superb ‘Afterhours’, a song worthy of inclusion on a film soundtrack. ‘A pure amphetamine song’, was how Eldritch described it in an hour long Canadian radio special also broadcast around this time”[2]. The single reached number 46 in the UK charts, with little thanks to its lamentable promotional video that was only ever shown “on Dutch and German cable TV, the Dutch giving it some heavy rotation”[3]. The video depicts an ancient city in ruins, its columns aflame, to which the band appear to have been transported in a puff of smoke. A dismantled drum kit lies in their wake before which Eldritch shakes as he passionately mimes along. Meanwhile, a wind machine is set to eleven and pointed straight at the band for maximum post-apocalyptic effect. Eldritch and guitarist, Gary Marx, appear to be taking the video very seriously indeed, with Marx displaying some of his trademark stage moves. This exercise in keeping a straight-face even extends to some rather stadium-esque guitar strums from Eldritch. Elsewhere, recently appointed second guitarist, Wayne Hussey, and bassist, Craig Adams, are failing miserably to keep to the moody agenda, with Hussey pulling some comically oafish shapes whenever the camera gets too close.

b&s eldritch tape

Body And Soul, WEA promotional cassette. Photo by LG.

RECORDING

Following a month long spring tour of the UK and Europe, that included a peerless performance on 5 June in Nijmegen, “it was High Time… to crawl out of the tour bus and get … into the studio. [The band] warmed up with a Peel session, which Auntie broadcast three times during the summer, before driving up to sunny Stockport to record the Album”[4]. Over June and July 1984, the band spent six weeks at Strawberry Studios with producer Allen and in-house engineer, Chris Nagle, recording the album which was slated for an October release and had the working title, Black October. At Strawberry, the band recorded all of the instrumentation and some preliminary guide vocals on select tracks, and Allen leant his programming talents to their newly acquired Oberheim DMX drum-machine.

Eldritch has admitted to taking “up to half a year”[5] to pen lyrics for finished songs. Consequently, Hussey and Marx found time to write and record guide vocals at Strawberry for a handful of tracks, notably: “Black Planet”, “First And Last And Always”, and “Nine While Nine”. Hussey’s lyrics for what later became “Black Planet” were entitled “Dance On Glass” and would eventually appear on The Mission’s debut album, God’s Own Medicine (Mercury, 1986). Marx’s guide vocal recording for “First And Last And Always” contains lyrical elements that would later spawn “Marian”:

I’d drafted a lyric and hastily recorded a guide vocal largely out of frustration that the previous [recording of “First And Last And Always” from the Body And Soul sessions] hadn’t built on the potential of the musical idea. Several positives came from it: the album’s title track, [and] the new and spellbinding “Marian”[6].

Marx’s guide vocal for “Nine While Nine” had the working title “Child Of Light” and contains the lyric “the children of the dust”. Marx recalled: “When we were deciding on a title for First And Last And Always, I pitched that one in even though it didn’t seem likely the lyric would surface on the finished version”[7]. In addition to the guide vocals recorded by Hussey and Marx, Eldritch would also record his own guide tracks for “No Time To Cry” and “Walk Away”. In its early form, “No Time To Cry” features a skeletal account of the final lyrics, lacking verse conclusions and the main chorus hook, whilst “Walk Away” utilises the finished lyrics and backing vocals by Hussey. “No Time To Cry” can be heard in draft form on the band’s 19 June 1984 session for BBC Radio One.

After the preliminary album sessions had wrapped at Strawberry, the band “staged a brief escape to New York”[8] before returning to Genetic Studios where they spent August with Allen completing the Walk Away single and album track “Marian”. The intention was to complete the entire album during the sessions at Genetic, however “Andrew fell ill as the recording was in its final stages, and collapsed during the struggle to meet the original autumn release date”[9]. Marx expanded upon this in a Q&A email exchange with me:

It is no secret that the sessions at Strawberry and Genetic were difficult and that the band ceased to be in real terms somewhere in that period. I made the call to pull the sessions at Genetic before completing the vocals and mixing, causing a delay in the album’s scheduled release and all the problems that creates for a major record label promoting a band they’ve invested heavily in. I did it because Andrew was in a mess at that time – he didn’t thank me (I wouldn’t expect it of him). Instead, he got himself back in shape and headed off to do the remaining work. Through choice, I took virtually no part in anything from that point on. The dynamic of the band at that stage was a presage of what played out a few months later. Namely, I was already halfway out the door, Craig was somewhere nearby, and Wayne was still weighing up what kind of life he’d have being Andrew’s hired-hand[10].

Having recovered, Eldritch spent 23 November – 9 December 1984 at Livingston Studios in London with Allen, in-house engineer Tony Harris, and tape operator Barry Clempson where they recorded vocal tracks and prepared the first set of finished mixes. Knowledge of the Livingston team’s involvement has only recently come to light (it has forever been documented that the band went back to Genetic Studios after the Black October tour, this is not correct). In 2010, when Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab was preparing the album’s vinyl remaster, a photograph of the master tape used was released that revealed the following information:

  • Livingston Studios, Brook Road, off Mayes Road, Wood Green, London, N22
  • Date: Nov-Dec 1984
  • Studio: Strawberry, Genetic, and Livingston
  • Tracks: Stereo
  • Producer: Dave Allen
  • Client: WEA Records
  • Artist: The Sisters Of Mercy
  • Engineer: Tony Harris at Livingston
  • 2nd Engineer: Barry Clempson
FALAA Master 1

First And Last And Always master tape. Livingston Studios.

I spoke with veteran engineer, Tony Harris (whose credits include technical work for REM, 10000 Maniacs, and The Jesus And Mary Chain), who recalled fond memories of the winter spent with Eldritch and Allen recording and mixing at Livingston Studios:

As you can tell from the box labels, we worked on this album in November/December 1984. The tapes had been recorded at Strawberry Studios in Stockport; I believe Chris Nagle had been the engineer there. “Marian” had been done at Genetic studios, presumably engineered by Dave Allen who was also the producer. The tapes were pretty much finished instrumentally when they arrived at Livingston. We did all the vocals and the first set of mixes there. The vocals were recorded with an AKG C414 microphone. We worked in Studio 1 which, at the time, had a 42 channel MCI JH500 mixing desk, Otari MTR90 tape machines, and an Urei 1176 compressor.

It was an interesting session; I think Dave and Andy both had fairly different views about how they wanted the album to turn out. If you’d seen the band at this time you’d know that a great part of the live sound was the power of the drum machine through the PA. I think Dave’s idea for the mix was to try to recreate this effect (sensibly in my opinion) so we hired in a PA rig and had it set up in the live end at Livingston with a view to using it as an effect whilst mixing. Andy, on the other hand, had been listening to a lot of Fleetwood Mac (I kid you not) and wanted a really clean hi-fi sort of sound. Dave, being a good producer, went along with the artist’s vision and we spent weeks mixing with the PA standing idle! It was a great British compromise.

I don’t remember having to do a lot of compiling of vocal takes. Eldritch was like Joe Strummer, he did the takes quickly and there weren’t many retakes.

I remember Dave had an infatuation with a thing called Zoids. These were self-assembly robot dinosaurs that were around at the time, many types that you collected. I remember that we had a piece of plywood across the meter bridge to have Zoid battles on whilst we were mixing! I also remember “Bud”, one of the studio cats, battling with ‘Tyrannozoid’ one time!

The tape boxes in that picture are definitely the ones from those sessions, it’s clearly my handwriting and I remember writing them. I’ve always been lead to believe that the album was subsequently mixed at least a couple more times so I’ve never known which, if any, of the mixes we did ended up on the album. If Mobile Fidelity used our masters for a re-issue, it suggests that they are on the album.

There was a studio version of “Emma” on the Strawberry tapes, I think we did a vocal on it but never mixed it, I think Andy thought it was “too obvious”, even though everyone loved it at gigs. I had a rough mix of that but unfortunately it disappeared from the Livingston tape store years ago.

You can see the studio pretty much as it was when we mixed First And Last And Always in this picture of me “hamming it up” in Studio 1, although the tape machine in that pic is a Lyrec TR532 which I’m pretty sure had been replaced by the Otari by the time The Sisters were in.

author20hamming20it20up20studio20120with20mci20and20lyrec20th

Livingston Studios.

This is funny, I’ve just checked out Wikipedia and the Livingston sessions aren’t even mentioned! Story of my life, one “classic” album I work on and there are no credits on the sleeves and even Wikipedia omits me![11]

After the sessions at Livingston, WEA asked seasoned engineer Reinhold Mack to try his hand at mixing the album in December. I spoke with Reinhold, who told me that his mixes were engineered at Giorgio Moroder’s Musicland Studios in Munich, but he did not get on with Eldritch so the job was abandoned. Eldritch would later tell Harris that he’d been “remixing in Germany but [didn’t] like the results”[12]. Marx’s assessment was less sympathetic: “[Mack] was given a go at remixing at least one tune but nothing was used on the album. ‘A Rock And A Hard Place’ was the only finished mix I remember hearing from him and it was awful”[13]. In fact, Mack mixed at least four tracks and his work was circulated internally at WEA on cassettes dated 11 January 1985. In addition, his mix of “Walk Away” was inadvertently included on the album’s American LP promo (1985, ST-E-60405-1). Those who have heard Mack’s mixes will note the similarity of “First And Last And Always” and “No Time To Cry” to their officially released Livingston-mixed counterparts. Harris explained:

There is no reason why the Mack mixes wouldn’t sound similar, Dave’s a well organised producer and what we recorded would be pretty much how we wanted it. I remember Andy farting about EQ’ing drums and bouncing them to other tracks. I remember recording to tape various guitar effects, such as the panning effect on ‘Possession’, so all these would be available to Mack for his mix. Generally, the difference would be subtle differences in reverbs and compression, but the ‘shape’ of the song wouldn’t change much[14].

There is some uncertainty surrounding the recording of the two No Time To Cry b-sides, “Blood Money” and “Bury Me Deep”, which were not part of the original album sessions. Harris affirms they were not recorded at Livingston, and Marx had no involvement with the tracks, so they were certainly recorded after August 1984:

Wayne played some great stuff on those tracks, and “Blood Money” is a tune I really love. I had always assumed they were both recorded and mixed at Livingston but, to be honest, without your prompt I wouldn’t have been able to name the studio. I only remember turning up once at the request of Craig who was trying to act as bridge-builder. Both tracks were already finished as I recall. Andrew and Wayne were playing out some weird bromance and understandably I didn’t take any great interest in who was or had been mixing what. You would probably have had more luck if you’d asked me to name the contents of the fridge there. I don’t remember Dave Allen being around then either – he had a much rougher ride than he deserved[15].

Long-term Merciful Release office manager, Boyd Steemson, speculated to me that they might have been recorded at Good Earth on Dean Street; unfortunately my enquiries with the studio’s ex-employees were fruitless. However, thanks to Harris’ diligent record keeping, it is documented that on 10-11 January 1985, Eldritch returned to Livingston to mix “Bury Me Deep” with Harris. Harris’ recording diary notes that the sessions took place between 12 pm – 8 am, and 6 pm – 11 am; a phenomenal amount of time for one vocal/guitar mix! With the album sessions having wrapped on 9 December 1984, that leaves a gap of one month for “Bury Me Deep” to be recorded. Harris had never heard of “Blood Money”, and it seems logical that, had it been recorded by the time of the January mixing session, Eldritch would have brought it to Livingston along with “Bury Me Deep”. Thus there are potentially two recording sessions, pre and post the January mixing session at Livingston and prior to the single’s release on 8 March 1985, unaccounted for, with Good Earth being a potential location. Conversely, Harris proposed that the tracks were most likely recorded at Strawberry Studios after the album sessions had wrapped at Livingston, and it is highly unlikely that the band went back to Genetic as Allen had moved on to new projects by that time. Steemson asserted that the “No Time To Cry” single version was mixed at Eel Pie Studios: “The only studio session I can remember going to was for the mix of the single version of ‘No Time To Cry’ at Eel Pie … It would have been January (or possibly February). Andrew was in charge of the session so the engineering would have been done by the in-house engineer. Fairly sure that the mixing was just for the single, so no other tracks worked on at Eel Pie”[16].

Tony Harris recording diary

Tony Harris’ recording diary. 10-11 January 1985.

RECORDING TIMELINE: 1984-1985

1984 March Strawberry Studios Recording: Body And Soul sessions.
1984 June 4 Release: Body And Soul EP.
1984 June 19 Maida Vale Studios Recording: BBC Radio One session.
1984 June-July Strawberry Studios Recording: Album (instruments, guide vocals).
1984 August Genetic Studios Recording: Walk Away single, “Marian”.
Mixing: Walk Away single, “Marian”.
Master: Walk Away single, completed.
1984 October 8 Release: Walk Away single.
1984 Nov-Dec 23-9 Livingston Studios Recording: Album (vocals).
Mixing: Album.
Master: Album, completed.
1984 December Musicland Studios Aborted album mixing with Reinhold Mack.
1985 January 10-11 Livingston Studios Mixing: “Bury Me Deep”.
1985 Jan/Feb Eel Pie Studios Mixing: “No Time To Cry” single version.
1985 March 8 Release: No Time To Cry single.
1985 March 11 Release: First And Last And Always LP.

MIXING

One of the most oft-discussed aspects of this album’s intricate history is the record label’s use of different track mixes for different territories. The album was released in one mix variant in March 1985 on LP and cassette in Europe, the United States, and Australia; and an ‘alternate’ mix variant by the Warner-Pioneer Corporation in Japan. The original European (MR 337L), USA (ST-E-60405-1), and Australian (240616-1) vinyl releases (amongst others) feature four tracks subsequently remixed by Eldritch after the Livingston sessions. When and where these were remixed is unknown, but Marx ventured that: “The only other person I could imagine Andrew trusting to oversee any finished mixes would have been Chris Nagle back at Strawberry, but even that seems unlikely”[17] (I attempted to contact Nagle to no avail). The original Japanese vinyl release (P-13162) was the first to contain the complete set of Livingston mixes as they appeared on the December 1984 master tape assembled by Harris. As it is known that Mobile Fidelity used the Livingston master for its 2011 reissue, it is possible to deduce which releases stem from the correct Livingston masters and which ones come from Eldritch’s altered master (detailed later). For the purposes of this article, I am going to use the terms “Eldritch master” and “Eldritch mixes” to refer to the altered non-Livingston tape used to cut the original European gatefold LP and its related off-shoots.

Four tracks exhibit mix variations between the Livingston and Eldritch masters: “A Rock And A Hard Place”, “Black Planet”, “First And Last And Always”, and “No Time To Cry”. The difference between the mixes of these tracks is notable, considering Eldritch’s desire to make a ‘hi-fi’ record (see discussion below). Essentially, Eldritch’s mix alterations frame the album as a post-punk disco record, with its snapping snare and taut bass, whilst the original Livingston configuration is far more mature (and hi-fi sounding) in nature. The cheesy-yet-awesome synthesised bass on “A Rock And A Hard Place”, and relentless Doktor Avalanche supreme programming on the title track, are absent from the Livingston mixes. Instead they feature additional instrumentation and more advanced production flourishes. Nonetheless, Eldritch has admitted that releasing the album in its Livingston configuration was a mistake:

The content of First And Last And Always should be the same wherever you buy it. Unfortunately when we had it released on CD (in the days before you got a CD ‘test’ copy in advance of release) there was a cock-up with the tapes and some of the tracks were pressed with the wrong mix. We are planning to put this right as soon as possible[18].

This presents something of a conundrum for fans, who traditionally view the European vinyl as containing the ‘original mixes’, whilst the mixes found on the Japanese vinyl are imaginatively known as the ‘Japanese mixes’ and generally considered to be alternate to the original. Thanks to Harris’ input above, we now know this is not the case. In fact, the ‘Japanese mixes’ are the original complete set of Livingston mixes, whilst the original European vinyl utilises alterations authorised by Eldritch without the input of the album’s primary sound engineers. Upon hearing Eldritch’s four remixes, Harris was shocked at how they sounded. He remembered Eldritch forever tinkering with the mixes: “Dave and I kept out of it. Eldritch would spend hours equalising the drums in particular, listening at a very quiet level. Then we would reappear and correct everything. The four alternate mixes definitely weren’t made at Livingston. No weird mixes came out of Livingston!”[19] Likewise, Mack confirmed that Eldritch “did not run any mixes by himself”[20] at Musicland.

One can trace the beginnings of the album’s mix variations to the end of July 1984 where, at Strawberry Studios, the band and Allen had completed seventeen tracks on ten reels:

  • Reel 1: Tones / “No Time to Cry”
  • Reel 2: “Emma” / “Walkaway” [sic]
  • Reel 3: “Poison Door” / “A Rock And A Hard Place”
  • Reel 4: “Scottish One A” / “Scottish One B”
  • Reel 5: “Possession” / “Spit On Your Grave” / “Evil Come Evil Go”
  • Reel 6: “Marianne” [sic] / “Wide Receiver”
  • Reel 7: “Nine While 9” [sic]
  • Reel 8: “Little Wing”
  • Reel 9: “Andy’s Little Wing”
  • Reel 10: “Down To E…” / “On The Wire”
Strawberry track split 1 (adjusted)

Strawberry Studios track split.

Tones refers to test signals at the beginning of the first reel; “Scottish One” is the working title of “First And Last And Always”, here seen in two variants; “Little Wing” is the working title of “Some Kind Of Stranger”, again seen in two variants. Harris affirms that he used every song he was given to work with from the Strawberry reels and he did not recognise “Wide Receiver”, thus confirming the widely held assumption that it was scrapped early on. “Spit On Your Grave”, “Evil Come Evil Go”, and “Down To E…” remain unknown, though Allen implied during a 2010 seminar[21] that they are familiar songs. Given Harris’ comments, it would seem reasonable to presume that two are working titles for “Black Planet” and “Amphetamine Logic”. The most likely candidate for the remaining unknown song is “Down To E…”. Allen could not remember what it became, and Harris surmised it might have been a jam track though it is unlikely he would have heard it given that “On The Wire” (the other track on Reel 10) was completed prior to his involvement. Therefore, in this configuration of events, it is feasible that Reel 10 did not go to Livingston.

Marx had the following to say about the Strawberry reels:

Okay Rob, you really believe in testing a man. Thirty plus years have passed since the events you’re concerned with. The specifics weren’t necessarily deemed to be of significance at the time to us or anyone else so trying to respond accurately through a filter of mythology isn’t going to be easy. Given the depth you’ve already managed to dig down to I would be surprised if much of what follows isn’t already documented elsewhere, but you asked so I’ll answer.

  1. What did the songs “Spit On Your Grave”, “Evil Come Evil Go”, and “Down To E…” become?

I really don’t recognise these working titles sorry.

  1. How complete is the Strawberry Studios recording of “Wide Receiver”?

Although I don’t ever remember it being thought of as a track for inclusion on the album, I believe it went through a similar process to the other main tunes. As such it would have existed for a while as a well recorded, complete backing track awaiting Andrew’s vocal and any further touches after it was clear if there were any ‘holes to fill in’. This could mean a few changes to the drum programming to add dynamics, or instrumental decoration from guitar or keyboards. Quite often the actual tape would be spliced to take out sections which had ceased to be part of the structure. I didn’t play on the track and I suspect it was layered up by Andrew on his own. This wasn’t an unusual thing, with both Wayne and Andrew often preferring to get the bulk of a backing track in shape before inviting further input. With some of their material from that period it was necessary because it was more about a soundscape and an atmosphere than the single killer riff. Any fans from the pre-Warner’s era would doubtless say that, for all its strengths, there isn’t a guitar line to match “Alice” anywhere on those finished tunes. I may be wrong but I think Andrew wrote some lyrics and recorded a fairly lengthy section of vocal for it. In much the same way as “Some Kind Of Stranger”, it had an end section with vocal but no earlier verses for weeks on end. I never heard a finished vocal for the whole of “Wide Receiver”.

  1. The Strawberry track split notes “Scottish One A” and “B”. I’m aware this is the working title for “First And Last And Always”, why the A and B though?

Here I can only say that the tune which became the album’s title track had a longer history than the likes of “Marian” and “Black Planet”, and had already been recorded at Strawberry around the time of “Body and Soul”. Of all the tunes we were working on at the time of signing with Warner’s, the “Scottish One” was considered the main contender for first single and we went in to record it with that in mind. Within the sessions Andrew struggled to come up with a workable lyric and melody and, in what became the frustrating pattern of later sessions, he spent time working through the night adding unnecessary extra layers to the arrangement. I think he had also suggested we slow the tempo considerably. The tipping point arrived when we came in one morning and heard a sort of harmony guitar line he had added to the main riff. It brought to mind some awful soft rock 1970’s Celtic band like Horslips. At that stage we agreed we were in danger of killing the tune and decided to move on to something else to clear our collective heads. It could be that the tune “Body And Soul” was already kicking about, I don’t remember. Sadly that is pretty much how I feel about it now – it is not a memorable tune. Lots of nice touches but nothing at the centre of it. I think the lyric had large chunks that were re-worked from what was shaping up as the lyric for the “Scottish One”. Certainly the “ever and always” was not a million miles from what Andrew reverted to on the album track’s chorus. I can only assume the labelling came about because Andrew still fancied the possibility of returning to the slower version of the backing track if he couldn’t find a vocal to gel with the album sessions version[22].

Strawberry track split 2 (adjusted)

“Wide Receiver” track split.

A selection of potential mixes from various sessions was dubbed on to three WEA in-house cassettes for the label’s consideration. The album tracks missing from the below evaluation cassettes (“Amphetamine Logic”, “Nine While Nine”, “Possession”, and “Some Kind Of Stranger”) share identical mixes across all releases of First And Last And Always. Of the tracks featured on the WEA in-house cassettes, “A Rock And A Hard Place”, “Black Planet”, “First And Last And Always”, “No Time To Cry”, and “Walk Away” have each had at least two mixes released officially (details below).

Helpfully, the three WEA cassettes circulate on bootlegs so it is possible to figure out which of these mixes became officially released versions. Thus:

WEA Records
11/1/85[23]
No Time To Cry Mack Mix  
First And Last And Always Mack Mix  
Walk Away Mack Mix Officially released on Elektra LP promo
A Rock And A Hard Place Mack Mix  
Walk Away Eldritch Mix  
A Rock And A Hard Place “A” Eldritch Mix  
A Rock And A Hard Place “B” Eldritch Mix LP Eldritch mix
 
WEA Records
31/1/85
First And Last And Always Mack Mix As above
No Time To Cry Mack Mix As above
A Rock And A Hard Place Mack Mix As above
Marian Genetic Mix LP Genetic mix
 
WEA Records
4/2/85
No Time To Cry Edited 7” Eldritch (Eel Pie) mix
No Time To Cry Unedited 12” Eldritch (Eel Pie) mix
Black Planet Second Mix Eldritch mix with louder bass guitar
First And Last And Always LP Eldritch mix
Black Planet Third Mix Eldritch mix without piano
Black Planet Fourth Mix LP Eldritch mix

The absent “first mix” of “Black Planet” must be the Livingston album mix. On the Livingston master, it is known as the “Holy Roman Empire Mix”: “A whim of Andrew or Dave. There are notes on the [master reel] box that it was an EQ’d copy of the original mix. The listed settings suggest a general brightening up on a Klark Teknik DN360 graphic equaliser”[24]. Note the curious lack of any finished Livingston mixes on the three WEA in-house cassettes. Perhaps the purpose of these cassettes – circulated one to two months after the Livingston sessions had wrapped – was to showcase the potential alternate mixes prepared separately by Mack and Eldritch for the suits at WEA (excepting “Marian”).

For years, Eldritch’s four altered mixes were only available on non-Japanese LPs, whilst all CD variants featured the complete Livingston mixes. More recently, the Eldritch mixes were released on CD, through Rhino Records’ botched 2006 remaster (details below), and high-resolution download, through Rhino’s more successful 2015 remaster, which also saw the release of a deluxe 4LP box-set. In addition, the Livingston mixes got a new lease of life in the form of a vinyl remaster by the American audiophile label, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, in 2011.

The Livingston and Eldritch mixes can be found on the following common releases:

Livingston Mixes
YYYY, Country, Format, Cat. No.
Eldritch Mixes
YYYY, Country, Format, Cat. No.
1985, JPN, LP, P-13162
1988, EU, CD, 240 616-2
1988, USA, CD, 9 60405-2
1990, JPN, CD, WMC5-255
1992, EU, LP, 9031-77379-1
1992, EU, CD, 9031-77379-2
2002, HK, CD, 8122736032
2008, RUS, CD, 4607173158390
2009, EU, CD, 0825646839476
2011, JPN, SHM CD, WQCP 1103
2011, USA, LP, MOFI 1-006
1985, AUS, LP, 240616-1
1985, CAN, LP, 24 06161
1985, EU, LP, MR 337L
1985, USA, LP, ST-E-60405-1
1986, BRA, LP, 38054
2006, EU, CD, 5101-17579-2
2007, EU, CD, 5101-19186-2
2012, EU, CD, 2564656827
2015, EU, LP, 0825646284047

TRACK GUIDE

The original Livingston, Eldritch, and Mack mixes; Strawberry track sheet; bootlegged outtakes; and WEA in-house variations result in the following known mix variants:

“A Rock And A Hard Place”
Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: 3
Known variants: Officially released Livingston mix, officially released Eldritch mix “B”, Eldritch mix “A”, Mack mix, Livingston vocal outtake.

The Eldritch mix has a flanging synthesiser coupled to the bass guitar that plays throughout the track, the introduction’s twelve-string guitar is in the centre channel, the vocal is thicker throughout, and at the 02:20 breakdown there is a twelve-string guitar playing and wild tom-drum reverb. The Livingston mix loses the synthesiser, the introduction gains an additional guitar in the left channel whilst the twelve-string guitar moves to the right, the verse gains even more guitars, and at the 02:20 breakdown there is a six-string guitar playing instead of the Eldritch mix’s twelve-string. Generally, from 02:20 until the end, the guitar mix differs greatly for both versions. Listening to the mixes back-to-back, one gets a sense of the Eldritch mix being closer to what you might expect to hear in a nightclub, whilst the Livingston mix is more restrained. The Livingston mix has more in common with the song’s live arrangement, with its additional guitars and lack of synth. Eldritch mix “A” is almost identical to its officially released counterpart (“B”), except for one instance of an altered snare effect and some minor additional vocal delay, and the closing vocal round is not mixed as smoothly. The Mack mix is something of a deconstructed Eldritch mix, featuring a stark synth line and guitar parts that take their individual turns in the spotlight. Mack’s mix lacks the drive of Eldritch’s and reveals that, in 1984, the band were wise to stick with the guitars and not let the synths take too much of the attention. A version very similar to the Livingston mix but with a more off the cuff vocal take is available on bootlegs. Upon hearing this version, Harris commented that the vocal outtake was “probably recorded at Livingston”[25].

“Amphetamine Logic”
Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: ?
Known variants: Officially released Livingston mix.

“Black Planet”
Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: ?
Known variants: Officially released Livingston (“Holy Roman Empire”) mix, officially released Eldritch (“fourth”) mix, Eldritch second mix, Eldritch third mix, Strawberry outtake with Hussey guide vocal (aka “Dance On Glass”).

The Eldritch mix has a clear vocal throughout, the “run around in the radiation” lyric is panned to both channels, there is an overall toppy production quality, and the fade-out is truncated. The Livingston mix has a murky effect on the vocal throughout (the recording of which Harris recalled with great enthusiasm), more prominent bass guitar, faint synthesiser flourishes, and a full-length fade-out. In my opinion, neither mix is completely perfect. The vocal production on the Eldritch mix is easier on the ear, but this mix is let down overall by its sonic texture and the truncated fade-out is sloppy. By contrast, the Livingston mix is warmer with a clearer bass guitar, but the excessively effected vocal bogs the song down somewhat. Eldritch’s second and third mixes are subtle variations on his officially released version, with the second mix being the most balanced of the set thanks to its more prominent bass guitar.

“Blood Money”
Recorded: ?
Reel: ?
Known variants: Officially released Eldritch mix.

“Bury Me Deep”
Recorded: ?
Reel: ?
Known variants: Officially released Livingston mix.

“Emma”
Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: 2
Known variants: Strawberry “faders up” mix, Livingston rough mix.

I played a couple of bootlegged studio recordings to Harris to gauge his reaction: “Emma”, and “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”. Harris confirmed that Emma was recorded at Strawberry Studios (including vocals), and an additional set of vocals were recorded at Livingston. Allen and Harris were both keen on “Emma” (enough for Harris to commit a wild “rough mix” to tape one night, drenched in delay and various guitar effects) and implored the band to release it but Eldritch vetoed it. Upon hearing the widely available “Emma” bootleg recording, Harris remarked that it sounded like a typical “faders-up” mix from Strawberry. Harris had never heard the “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” recording, which means that it was not brought to the album’s mixing session at Livingston (in fact it was not even recorded until June 1985).

“First And Last And Always”
Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: 4
Known variants: Officially released Livingston mix, officially released Eldritch mix, Mack mix, Strawberry outtake with Marx guide vocal (aka “Marianne”/“Red Skies Disappear”).

The Eldritch mix opens with a reverse snare hit, the drum-machine plays throughout the introduction, and there is a stereo guitar sweep at 00:32. Throughout the Eldritch mix the drums are snappier with the snare being particularly dynamic, this is most apparent around the 02:27 mark. Overall there is a greater utilisation of macro-dynamics, especially during the chorus. At the 01:40 breakdown, the piano and synthesiser are buried and an additional guitar is overlaid. Verse 2 exhibits sparser instrumentation, and the mix closes with a slightly longer fade-out. The Livingston mix has a longer introduction by about ten seconds, during which the drums fade in and out and are generally mixed differently (Harris is very proud of the tom-drum delay he engineered). At the 01:50 breakdown (ten seconds later than previously mentioned due to the longer introduction), the piano and synthesiser are more prominent with the synthesised harp panned to the left channel, the bass guitar is also more prominent during this section. At 02:36, there is an additional guitar accompanying the “my calling” lyric, and the main guitar riff plays throughout the second verse. My sonic impression of the two mixes is similar to “A Rock And A Hard Place”, whereby the Eldritch mix sounds more club/single oriented and the Livingston mix more album focussed, with its sophisticated introduction and synthesiser flourishes. The Eldritch mix has a triumphant quality thanks to its dynamics whereas the Livingston mix is more laidback. The Mack mix is a combination of the two. The intro shares sonic qualities from both, though it is truncated and features a more prominently picked guitar part in the left channel that recurs throughout the mix. The most interesting aspect of the Mack mix is the appearance of a brief bass solo at 02:08 and the fact that this version is heavily edited in parts, with a running time of 03:30, perhaps implying that it was once intended to be an edit for radio or single release.

“Marian”
Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: 6
Known variants: Officially released Genetic mix.

“Nine While Nine”
Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: 7
Known variants: Officially released Livingston mix, Strawberry outtake (aka “Child Of Light”).

“No Time To Cry”
Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: 1
Known variants: Officially released Livingston mix, officially released Eldritch/Eel Pie mix, officially released 7″ edit of Eldritch/Eel Pie mix, Mack mix, Strawberry outtake with Eldritch guide vocal.

The Eldritch mix’s introduction has a flange effect on the snare drum, and the outro is longer with additional sound effects marking the song’s ominous conclusion. The 7″ edit utilises the Eldritch mix but truncates the introduction. This edit can also be heard in the music video. The Livingston mix has a longer introduction with delightfully panned reverberating tom-drums, these stereo drums are reprised during the song’s breakdown at 02:27, and its outro is curtailed with a quick fade-out. From a listening perspective, I prefer the Livingston mix for its stereo drum presentation; the Eldritch mix sounds distinctly one-dimensional by comparison. On the other hand, the conclusion of the Livingston mix is regretfully rapid, whilst the Eldritch mix’s end suits the song perfectly. The Mack mix uses the Livingston as its template but the drums and vocals are drier, adding more presence. This results in a somewhat clunky rendering of the chorus, which works better when covered in reverb. One advantage of Mack’s mix is the added definition on the bass guitar, and the tom drums are particularly thunderous during the breakdown.

“On The Wire”
Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: 10
Known variants: Officially released Genetic mix.

“Poison Door”
Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: 3
Known variants: Officially released Genetic mix.

“Possession”
Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: 5
Known variants: Officially released Livingston mix.

“Some Kind Of Stranger”
Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: 8, 9
Known variants: Officially released Livingston mix, officially released Strawberry outtake with Eldritch guide vocal (aka “early” version), Strawberry instrumental.

The “early” version (featured on Rhino’s 2006 CD remaster, 5101-17579-2) share’s similar sonic qualities to the “faders up” mix of Emma, and the vocal performance is reminiscent of Eldritch’s other guide tracks that have leaked from the Strawberry recording sessions.

“Walk Away”
Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: 2
Known variants: Officially released Genetic mix, officially released Mack mix, Eldritch mix, Strawberry outtake with Eldritch guide vocal.

Early live performances of this song reveal that the instrumentation was written by the time of Hussey’s live debut on 7 April 1984. The lyrics however are far more nebulous, with the debut performance including the significant line “don’t walk away”. They languished in a barely finished state throughout the USA Spring Tour (10 April-16 April) and even into June 1984, before being finalised in time for the band’s Peel session on 19 June. Hearing Mack’s mix of “Walk Away” properly mastered reveals a tantalising insight into how different the album could have sounded with his production fully realised. Mack’s robust style is more rock oriented and strips away a lot of the song’s pop leanings to bring out the guitars and present a more honest vocal mix. The Eldritch mix is the same as the Genetic mix but features thicker drum EQ and a brief but prominent flanging guitar part at 01:30.

“Wide Receiver”
Recorded: Strawberry Studios
Reel: 6
Known variants: N/A

IMG_20160727_194028

The only surviving example of Tony Harris’ rough mix of “Emma”.

MASTERING

Harris recalled that Eldritch’s next subject of obsession – after fixating on the mixing of the album – would be the album’s mastering: “I need to find someone who’ll add back all the midrange I’ve EQ’d out”[26], Eldritch would say. Harris recommended Ray Staff, the cutting engineer at Trident Studios in Soho, who would end up cutting the British lacquers for all of The Sisters Of Mercy’s albums (and later go on to remaster them for Rhino’s 2015-2016 box set campaign). Mastering is the final stage of record production, the process by which music is transferred from the master tape to the analogue lacquer or digital glass master for mass production. Mastering can often make or break a recording, representing the last chance for a professional engineer to add a finishing touch to the overall tone of a piece. It is often compared to lighting artwork in a gallery: easy enough to do but difficult to get absolutely spot on.

The UK promotional LP (lacquers cut at Trident Studios, promo pressed at PRS Ltd.) appears to be the first instance of First And Last And Always on vinyl. The promo’s production parts are the source for the German white label test-pressing and are therefore the likely source of subsequent Germany-for-Europe pressings with A3 and A6 matrices (all pressed at Record Service GmbH). This mastering has a panning error at the start of “A Rock And A Hard Place”, whereby the opening note is silent in the right channel. This error also appears on the USA promo, Canadian LP, and early cassette pressings. When this panning error is present, the opening guitar strum of “Marian” is heard in both channels. The re-mastered A7 matrix fixes the panning error on “A Rock And A Hard Place” and instead pans the opening guitar strum of “Marian” to the left channel. All Record Service GmbH pressings used the same side-two stamper (R/S Alsdorf 240616-1 B2) throughout the album’s production run. My favourite R/S cut is the A7/B2 matrix variety for the corrected “A Rock And A Hard Place” and generally quieter vinyl it’s pressed on compared to earlier attempts.

If you are hunting for a USA pressing with the Mack mix of “Walk Away”, look for the following side-one matrix number: STE 60405-A-1 MASTERDISK. Non-A1 pressings use the standard Genetic mix. The side-two stamper is the same across all USA pressings.

First And Last And Always has been reissued many times and, consequently, mastered many times. Each mastering engineer brings a different sonic approach, allowing us to hear the album in subtly different ways. Below are my subjective opinions on the various pressings. Whilst I have tried to stress the importance of the complete Livingston mixes in this article, it is Eldritch’s variation that was released first, so I will start there.

Eldritch Mixes:

Quite simply, my current favourite sounding release of the Eldritch mixes is the USA LP (1985, ST-E-60405-1), mastered by Howie Weinberg at Masterdisk. The sound is crisp, taut, and dynamic, with a smooth control of sibilants. “Possession” is a surprising sonic standout. Weinberg’s mastering really complements the mixes, particularly “First And Last And Always” which is important here as it is one of the altered four. The original European LPs – pressed at Record Service GmbH – I find are often pressed on low quality vinyl, resulting in excessive surface noise and crackle. This issue is further exacerbated by the European inner sleeve which is made from coarse paper, thus scuffing the record’s playing surface over the years. By comparison, the USA LP was packaged in a black poly-lined inner-sleeve which is much more adept at protecting vinyl records. Rhino’s 2015 4LP box-set was cut from original production masters by Ray Staff at Air Studios, and pressed at Optimal Media GmbH on dead quiet vinyl. It sounds great. Any new collector could save themselves a lot of hassle by simply buying the box set and enjoying it. The box set is complemented by a high-resolution digital download at 24-bits / 96 kHz, presumably sourced from the same production masters used to press the Rhino LPs. Streamers will be frustrated to note that the Eldritch mixes are still not available online owing to a record label mix up. If you want to hear them in their best digital form you must purchase the high resolution download from HD Tracks.

The Eldritch mixes made their CD debut in 2006 courtesy of Rhino. The packaging is excellent, with a detailed booklet and many interesting archival photographs. Unfortunately, the sound quality is a disappointment thanks to some unforgiveable mastering errors. Most notable of these is that the volume of the tracks fluctuates across the CD, as if the songs have been prepared in isolation rather than as one coherent album. This makes for quite a jarring listening experience. In addition, four of the tracks are frustratingly brickwalled, whilst the main bulk of tracks are pleasantly dynamic. Thankfully these errors are all undone by the 2015 remaster, and the only track of any remaining significance on the 2006 CD – the unique early version of “Some Kind Of Stranger” – is mastered correctly with dynamics intact.

elektra tp

USA test pressing. Photo by LG.

Livingston Mixes:

In a similar fashion to Rhino’s 2015 box set, any collector wishing to obtain the full Livingston mixes in superb sound quality should look no further than Mobile Fidelity’s 2011 vinyl remaster. Cut all-analogue from the Livingston master tapes supplied by WEA London’s archive, the sound is rich with the widest stereo spread I have ever heard for this album. The current market value of the original Japanese LP makes obtaining it somewhat prohibitive, and I was not particularly impressed by a needledrop I heard of it, a spectrogram of which revealed the presence of a digital delay line in the cutting path. When the album was remastered in 1992 it was released on vinyl and features the Livingston mixes. I heard a needledrop of this pressing and was quite impressed by the sound, but a spectrogram revealed digital processing in the signal path that is absent from the Mobile Fidelity pressing. Certainly, the Mobile Fidelity remaster is the purest in terms of its signal path and provenance. In my opinion, the Mobile Fidelity remaster sonically frames the complete Livingston mixes correctly for the first time. There is none of the imbalance that plagues previous releases, instead the sound is spacious and one gets a real sense of the hi-fi sound that the band and engineers working at Livingston were trying to achieve.

The commonly available European and American CDs from 1988, on WEA and Elektra respectively, contain the Livingston mixes and are cheap and plentiful on the second-hand market. These CDs were pressed at the same plants as their earlier LP counterparts – Record Service GmbH and Specialty Records Corporation – though the mastering engineer is unknown in both cases. What is known is that the CDs received unique digital masters for their respective territories. The German pressing sounds a little darker overall and rolled off on the top-end, whilst the American pressing sounds boosted in the midrange and a bit brighter on the top-end. The discs do not offer a particularly rich or enjoyable listening experience, and it is my opinion that they are primarily responsible for some of the band’s fans’ mistaken contempt for the Livingston mixes (an unfortunate situation that I hope this article will put right). Of the two, the German pressing sounds closer to the Mobile Fidelity remaster (though not nearly as resolving or detailed), with the American disc seeming to me like the odd one out. If you favour a brighter presentation, or your hi-fi is particularly warm sounding, you might consider trying the American CD as it certainly clears up some of the German CD’s potential muddiness. From a technical standpoint, the American CD is inferior because “Walk Away” exhibits clipping, which could cause some older CD players to distort. The German CD (1988, 240 616-2) is digitally identical to the Japanese CD (1990, WMC5-255), and the American CD (1988, 9 60405-2) contains an identical EQ curve to the 1992 “remaster” (1992, 9031-77379-2) but the 1992 disc is on average -0.4 dB quieter than the American CD across all tracks (so, technically speaking, it is re-mastered but the sound is exactly the same as the American CD from 1988). The slight reduction in level resolves the aforementioned peak issue found on the American disc. Rhino’s Original Album Series box-set (2009, 0825646839476) contains the 1992 mastering.

Two peculiar releases came out in Hong Kong (2002, 8122736032) and Russia (2008, 4607173158390). Both are officially released digital clones of the 1992 CD. The 2002 Hong Kong disc claims to be an HDCD, but it contains no decipherable HDCD data (such as peak extension). The 2008 Russian disc is coloured gold. Obviously, neither offers any additional sonic insight over the 1992 CD.

The table below lists the peak data values for each track in dBFS. Comparing peak analyses of CDs allows collectors to examine the digital data contained on different discs to see which ones are identical or unique. In the 1988 EU and 1990 JPN columns, the peak value is identical for every track – thus the discs are digitally identical.

TRACK PEAKS (dBFS): 1998 EU 1990 JPN 1988 USA 1992 EU
Black Planet -0.05 -0.05 -0.90 -0.50
Walk Away 0.00 0.00 Over 0.00
No Time To Cry -0.06 -0.06 -0.15 0.00
A Rock And A Hard Place -0.27 -0.27 -1.73 -1.33
Marian (Version) 0.00 0.00 -0.36 0.00
First And Last And Always -0.49 -0.49 -0.70 -0.30
Possession 0.00 0.00 -2.01 -1.61
Nine While Nine -0.07 -0.07 -0.74 -0.34
Amphetamine Logic 0.00 0.00 -0.65 -0.25
Some Kind Of Stranger -0.46 -0.46 -0.36 0.00

The peak data for the 1988 USA and 1992 EU columns is different, but the 1992 peaks are simply shifted down by around -0.4 dB. Proof of this can be found by comparing the tracks’ RMS volume levels:

TRACK RMS (dB): 1988 USA 1992 EU Delta
Black Planet -14.24 -13.82 -0.42
Walk Away -13.81 -14.35 0.54
No Time To Cry -15.04 -14.64 -0.4
A Rock And A Hard Place -16.06 -15.66 -0.4
Marian (Version) -14.29 -13.89 -0.4
First And Last And Always -15.17 -14.77 -0.4
Possession -16.71 -16.31 -0.4
Nine While Nine -15.09 -14.69 -0.4
Amphetamine Logic -14.98 -14.58 -0.4
Some Kind Of Stranger -14.88 -14.48 -0.4

The following frequency analysis graph plots the frequency curve of “Black Planet” from the German CD (red) and the American CD (blue). The German CD exhibits a bass boost in the 100-200 Hz region and a dip in the mid-range, whilst the USA CD is slightly more even throughout. These differences are responsible for the sonic impressions between the two CD masters, as outlined above.

BP EQ - Red DE - Blue USA

“Black Planet” frequency comparison of 1988 CDs (Germany

/

USA

).

This article started life as a simple attempt to describe mix variations and wax lyrical about mastering. Thanks to a chance discovery however, it morphed into a far greater project. I would like to thank Tony Harris in particular for his help piecing the puzzle together, Gary Marx for peering back into the black, Boyd Steemson for his tantalising recollections, Dave Allen for his comments in 2010, Reinhold Mack for responding to my incessant enquiries, Phil Verne for photographic assistance, and LG for audio delights. Albums only work if the songs are great. The songs on First And Last And Always are great, they have stood the test of time, and they are worth obsessing over. Alas, the full picture remains incomplete, and until someone can interview Eldritch on the missing pieces the dots may never be completely joined. Attempts were made by your humble researcher but the call went unheeded. Until then, you have just read all I know for sure about the recording, mixing, and mastering of The Sisters Of Mercy’s First And Last And Always.

IMG_20160727_194000

Tony Harris’ cassette back-up of the Livingston master tape.

References:

[1] David M Allen, 29 August 2010: Sound Seminar. The Woodmill, London.

[2] “Serpents Kiss!”, Spiral Scratch, January 1989, 37.

[3] Ibid., 37.

[4] “Working Forward By Looking Back”, Merciful Release communication (1985): 1.

[5] Markus Hartmann, “…And the Wind Blows Wild Again…”. Zillo, November 1990.

[6] “Nine While Nine demo”, MyHeartland, accessed 8 August 2016, https://www.myheartland.co.uk/viewtopic.php?p=530936#530936.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Working Forward By Looking Back”, 2.

[9] Ibid., 2.

[10] Gary Marx, e-mail message to author, 30 August 2016.

[11] Tony Harris, e-mail message to author, 23 July 2016.

[12] Tony Harris, Recording Diary, 10 January 1985.

[13] Gary Marx, e-mail message to author, 30 August 2016.

[14] Tony Harris, e-mail message to author, 24 July 2016.

[15] Gary Marx, e-mail message to author, 30 August 2016.

[16] Boyd Steemson, e-mail message to author, 22 August 2016.

[17] Gary Marx, e-mail message to author, 30 August 2016.

[18] “Speculation”, Underneath The Rock (2: 1992): 3.

[19] Tony Harris, minuted conversation with author, 27 July 2016.

[20] Reinhold Mack, Facebook message to author, 1 August 2016.

[21] David M Allen, 29 August 2010: Sound Seminar. The Woodmill, London.

[22] Gary Marx, e-mail message to author, 30 August 2016.

[23] Tracks 1, 2, 4, 5 feature on the Palazzograssi bootleg, The Last Magician Of Rational Thought (PG 04    , 1989).

[24] Tony Harris, e-mail message to author, 24 July 2016.

[25] Tony Harris, minuted conversation with author, 27 July 2016.

[26] Ibid.

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Bootlegs

The Sisters Of Mercy – The Last Magician Of Rational Thought

In December 1984, Andrew Eldritch travelled to Germany to attempt to remix The Sisters Of Mercy’s forthcoming album, First And Last And Always, with seasoned producer Reinhold Mack at Giorgio Moroder’s Musicland Studios in Munich. Alas, Eldritch wasn’t pleased with the results so the job was called off but that didn’t stop a number of Mack’s mixes from circulating at WEA on in-house cassettes, one of Mack’s mixes even made it on to the album’s American LP promo. An unmarked copy of the 11 January 1985 in-house cassette  – containing a selection of Mack and Eldritch’s remixes – made its way to the Phantom Twins, who were engaged in releasing “interesting and quality recordings by The Sisters Of Mercy which are unavailable through Merciful Release” on their Palazzograssi label. Four of the tape’s tracks were chosen to comprise their fourth release, The Last Magician Of Rational Thought. It contains three Mack mixes (“No Time To Cry”, “First And Last And Always”, and “A Rock And A Hard Place”) and one Eldritch mix (“Walk Away”), none of which feature on the finished album. With the help of Sisters collector Bruno Bossier, I was able to reach one of the label’s founders who kindly answered some questions about the record:

Is the source for the vinyl the “WEA in-house” cassette dated 11/1/85?

Not sure. The tape came to us as TDK with handwritten red writing, it was a copy of something. The in-house tape pics appeared years later (i.e. the ones as shown in the wiki) so I have no idea if they are fake or real.

If so, what made you pick these four tracks in particular?

We liked them and they were the most interesting to us at least. I can’t be sure if this was pre or post the Japanese [album release] with different mixes, but they were interesting so we used them. This was around the time people were trying to create ‘demos’ or ‘alternate mixes’ by rehashing the released studio tracks.

Why did you include the Eldritch mix of “Walk Away”, instead of using all four Mack mixes?

Was nothing more complex than which tracks sounded the most interesting (i.e. different) to us at the time. Not compared the Mack mix to Eldritch mix for “Walk Away” for so many years, but one must have been more interesting than the other.

What form did the master take that was sent to the pressing facility, and where was the bootleg pressed?

TDK cassette transferred via a Sony cassette deck (a good one) to REVOX B77 MkII 2 track 15 ips. Pressed in Italy. Sleeve designed and printed in the UK. They learned how to make sleeves after the first wave of Victims Of Circumstance.

Did you have any other First And Last And Always related bootlegs in the pipeline that never saw release?

Only the 50 copies that would have been Reverberation.

b77-mkii-961-02

I tracked down a copy of this important Sisters artefact to needledrop as the other transfers I’ve heard have been fairly poor sounding. My copy is in VG+ condition, and the transfer is very listenable, providing a good insight into these alternate mixes. I cleaned the record on my Okki Nokki RCM, and the transfer signal path was: Technics SL-1210 Mk2 > AT440MLa micro-line cartridge > Rega Elex-R amplifier > Creative X-Fi HD > FLAC 24/96. I applied some light ClickRepair and pitch corrected the tracks against a digital reference. For the sake of completeness, I have included Mack’s mix of “Walk Away” (absent from the Palazzograssi record), which I transferred from the American LP promo (1985, ST-E-60405-1). Artwork scans @ 600 DPI.

THE SISTERS OF MERCY : The Last Magician Of Rational Thought

Label: Palazzograssi Records ‎– PG 04
Format: White vinyl, 7″, 33 ⅓ RPM
Country: UK
Released: 1988

  1. No Time To Cry [Mack Mix]
  2. First And Last And Always [Mack Mix]
  3. A Rock And A Hard Place [Mack Mix]
  4. Walk Away [Eldritch Mix]
  5. Walk Away [Mack Mix] [Bonus]

High-Resolution Download

Coming soon…
ALL I KNOW FOR SURE: A comprehensive overview of the First And Last And Always recording sessions, featuring: exclusive interviews, new information, and a look at the recording diaries and original master tapes.

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