Tom Vague, writer/historian, Ladbroke Grove:
“I was much taken by Ian’s Southern Death Cult in the early 80s post-punk/positive-punk post-Adam and the Ants days. I was nicknamed Tonto at junior school and felt some affinity with Ian when he first appeared on the scene in Liverpool as a Crass/Poison Girls follower staying with some of my Ants roadie mates in 1980. Southern Death Cult were seen as the natural successors of Adam and the Ants as the coolest post/positive-punk group with some pop potential and an anarcho-mystic sub-plot – rather than the early Ants’ avant-garde art thing.
When I interviewed them in Bradford in 1982 at first Ian wouldn’t speak to me because he’d seen a critique of his mates Sex Gang Children in Vague by Johnny Waller (which was in fact favourable). But we duly found common ground as fellow Everton supporters and became friends. I went on the last Southern Death Cult tour in some sort of journo/roadie/ligger capacity, and Ian lived in my squat on New North Road in Islington in 1983 as he got the Cult together with Billy. At the Death Cult stage I was quite closely involved with the group; as the honorary fifth member Cult scribe I did their first biog and EP insert, and put in my ten cents’ worth trying in vain to keep them on a righteous post-punk path against Billy and Ian’s proper rock leanings. I have finally got into Led Zeppelin and admit they were right. If they had listened to me they probably wouldn’t have got out of north London."
This is what I wrote in Zigzag of The Cult’s first gig ever on the Tube in early 1984: "The only time this week’s Tube achieved anything like the atmosphere of a live gig was with the last band, our boys. Quote of the year so far from Ian: “Only two minutes to go and we’ve got to change the name in front of millions of people!” So after the year all God’s children got culture, Death Cult drop the Death and evolve into The Cult for their first appearance of 1984. This presented some problems for Lesley Ash.”
James, fanzine writer, England: “The Cult were outsiders because of the way mainstream music was manipulated by the major record labels and the BBC. You had Radio One and Top Of the Pops serving up endless stale crap and The Tube was the only new exciting place bands could play. The powers that be controlled the charts so they only promoted bland, mainstream, established music. It meant the charts were truly shit but that also meant an underground could thrive and by 1985 there were some really big bands in the Indie charts: the Cult, Depeche Mode, the Smiths, New Order, The Cocteau Twins. The Jesus And Mary Chain had just appeared too. It was a strange tense time, it felt like a music war was going on. A mainstream Thatcherite creative vacuum being threatened by these emerging acts.”
Billy Duffy, The Cult: “All the bands from the alternative charts fucked off and toured America because we weren’t getting any TV or radio exposure in the UK. And because of that they’re all still big in America, New order, Dépêche Mode, The Smiths, all of us with the exception of Cocteau Twins who weren’t quite so rocking", and: "Daytime Radio One wouldn’t play us so MTV and loads of touring helped build our careers Stateside.”
GIMME SOME LOVE - Ian, vocals: “It’s twenty four years ago. Wow. 24 years. My main memory of recording Love was being locked away in a bungalow listening to Led Zep 24/7 full blast.”
Billy, guitars: “Ian was intent on making an acid rock album, he was very much into 60’s San Francisco, Blue Cheer who were the loudest craziest acidy band. Ian wanted me to get into as much great rock as I had. We wanted away from 5th generation safety pin covered Mohawk shit punk bands on one side and Kajagoogoo on the other. We know where we were at, it was time for something new.”
SANCTUARY - Billy: “We started with Sanctuary. It was recorded separately to rest of album, at Olympic in Barnes where Led Zep had recorded, we used it because of all this old equipment. We wanted to get back to the roots of rock just as everyone else was getting really hi tech. It was all Howard Jones pop, no guitars in the charts back then apart from us and The Eurythmics, which is weird looking back."
“We wanted Steve Lillywhite but we got the wrong Steve. Our management sent a demo of the track and a video over to Lillywhite’s managers office and someone just wrote ‘To Steve’ on the package. They also represented Steve Brown who picked up the video from his managers office. He’d just done Wham and when it was arranged for us to meet him we thought ‘This guys out of his mind, this will either be the best move ever or a disaster’.
Steve: “I first saw The Cults demo tape on their agent John Giddings's desk and nicked it. Having spent my formative years engineering some of the UK's finest rock acts such as Roy Woods’ Wizzard, The Boomtown Rats, Thin Lizzy, Dire Straits, I had gotten tangled up in the British pop scene and my first hit productions were bands including Wham! ABCand Blue Rondo a la Turk. I desperately wanted to produce a proper guitar based rock band but because of my production track record no-one in the rock world would touch me. Seeing the demo cassette with Southern Death Cult demos written on it was too tempting, I stole it and hot footed off to my flat and stuck it straight in the tape machine. Deep in the second side I heard a guitar riff that kinda reminded me of Neil Young's "Old Man (Take a Look at my Life)" along with a few other humdinger lines and my ears perked up. I grabbed another tape machine and edited together the riffs into the first arrangement of, what is now known as, "She Sells Sanctuary" I played it to Giddings and he got me an appointment to meet them in their rehearsal room. I then shot out and bought all their previous material and they sounded like a British rock band to me.
"When I walked into that rehearsal room with my ghetto blaster it was very very strange. They were never the easiest band to infiltrate. Billy was looking straight at me thinking what the fuck is Wham's producer doing here whereas Ian was crouched down against a wall, with a broad rimmed hat hiding his face like a Mexican bandit thinking fuck me it's Wham's producer, what a blast. It has always been this difference of thought between the two of them that has made the band so strong and diverse.”
Billy: “We met Steve Brown and liked him because he seemed to be out of his mind in a good way. The record company said, do this as a one off single and if it goes well you can do the album with him.”
Ian: “At the start of the song what you can hear is just backing vocals, it’s not lifted from an old film or anything but we were definitely going for an Ennio Morricone style atmospheric soundtrack, something cinematic and epic. So I came up with this ghostly vocal that the guitar comes in over.”
Johnny, fan, New Jersey: “I got into Love it through the Warehouse in Leeds where ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ was played religiously along with The Clash, Spear of Destiny and Iggy Pop. It could immediately hold it’s own alongside ‘Rock the Casbah’ and ‘the Passenger’.”
Billy: “It didn’t originally have that dead weird intro it used to just start with the drums. I saw a bow from a violin in the studio and I started doing the Jimmy Page thing to amuse Ian. Up until then our studio experiences had been quite sterile but we were in this place in Barnes that Zeppelin had recorded in, it was a massive room because they used to record orchestras in there too. The engineer was telling us about Led Zep being in there so we were trying to channel the ghosts and get something out of it, most of the time Steve Brown went along with what we wanted because he was mental. I stood on every effect pedal for a laugh to make Ian laugh, played the middle section of song like that with the bow and Steve said, do that again. Also there was an emulator which was an early sampler which was the new studio toy of the time and you could get new sounds.”
Russ, fan, Hull: “I knew a kid who claimed to have written "She Sells Sanctuary" ... mind you, he also told me that The Mission had a secret rehearsal room under Pearson Park in Hull.”
Billy: “Sanctuary changed it for us, it was the first time we were on Beggars Banquet proper, before that we were on Situation 2. Spiritwalker had been an indie hit but we’d struggled to improve on that with the next two singles. Sanctuary was a hit after the Radio One breakfast show played it. So we rolled right into recording ‘Love’ very confident, we changed from underground goth band and suddenly we were ‘who are these new age gypsies with the long hair and the white guitar?’ It was different.
In between we had to fire Nigel Preston who had played on ‘Sanctuary’ as he didn’t show for video, he’d been arrested in some car that wasn’t his without a license at 7am, and he seemed to have some drug problems.
It was difficult to let him go because he’d been a mate of mine for a long time, we were in Theatre of Hate together.It was traumatic but he was really bad into drugs and not reliable, and Mark Brzezicki from Big Country sat in on video and then the album as we had the same management.”
LET'S MAKE LOVE
Steve: “We did the majority of our work together at Jacobs Farm in the English countryside, living in a large farmhouse and recording in converted barns . Very fond memories, especially of Mark (Spike) Stent who was the former gardener at Jacobs who started fiddling in the studio, became brilliant and was my assistant engineer for Love. Once the backing tracks were down Billy would do the first shift of the day, after his exercise and a hearty breakfast we'd work on his parts. After dinner the mood in the control room would change, the lights would go down, the joss sticks were lit and Mr Astbury would start work and that would go into the early hours. I have a very vivid memory of meeting Spike in the studio every morning for coffee and we'd be looking worse and worse every day . . not a pretty sight.
I had just spent the last two years hanging out at the BBC on regular occasions watching my pop clients recording their Top of the Pops performances. It was always great fun. At that first meeting I asked the band if they aspired to appear on the show, Ian and Billy answered yes . . simultaneously . . instantly!! They wanted to make music for the masses, all we had to do was watch out for cheesy and we were all non-cheesy kinda guys. I made the decision that we didn't have the perfect low-risk follow up to Sanctuary. We had just taken on board a bunch of new fans by making a dance record with rock guitar and yodelling on top. We needed to do it again. It was my opinion that when doing the follow up we didn't want to alienate our new fans with something too different, I ask Ian and Billy to come up with Sanctuary's brother, a day later I was listening to Rain . . job done. If you listen to Revolution, hit single number three, you'll hear the same chord progression slowed down to big ballad status . . . simples!! I would of gone with Big Neon Glitter next to say "hey, look what we can do" but it was time for the album to stand up on it's own right . . and it did.”
Billy: “We were into the classics, but we were still into Psychedelic Furs, Billy Idol and Killing Joke – they were a little bit older than us – it was dance rock. No-one played you on the radio so you made 12 “ for the clubs and built that way with a big back beat, all bands doing it: Play Dead, Sisters of Mercy. We were conscious that every thing had to groove. The drum beat on ‘Nirvana’ is called ‘pea soup’, Brzezicki being a top level drummer opened our eyes to a lot of new feels. He helped us do things that became sign posts to the band moving into more guitar and acid rock, ‘The Phoenix’ and the title track were riffs I had in preproduction and Brzezicki joined in on the riff and Ian said that’s amazing, and ran off and wrote the lyrics in ten minutes. “
Ian: “I was trying out the bluesy sexuality and metaphors The Doors and Hendrix had been into really, it’s that simple. I’d also been reading loads about Vietnam because the music had been such a key part of it. So I’d been reading the young photographer Tim Page’s book, and watching Apocalyse Now, and Michael Herr’s ‘Despatches’ was another important book. Billy was wearing Tiger Stripe at the time and the Clash had the same thing going on on the sleeve of Combat Rock. All of these influences were interwoven, the groovy innuendo of Hendrix, Vietnam. Music was revolutionary at the time, it was still a young movement rock and roll, and it had been made very political by the likes of the MC5.”
Steve: “I have a soft spot for ‘Brother Wolf Sister Moon’ Jamie Stewart did a great job playing the strings in giving it the drama. And the fun we had putting the thunder storm on the track it was a real summer storm over Jacobs, Everyone loves a good storm, especially The Cult. Both Ian and Billy could improvise their parts and come up with new brilliant ideas 'til the cows wondered in. We were working on early digital tape which gave me 32 tracks to play with. We found the best way to work was for them to give me tracks and tracks of one take performances and I would sit and piece them into one killer take, not a new technique but earned me the nick name of "Bodger Brown" from Billy.”
Steve: “Sanctuary hit the charts and TOTP was done very early on in the album. It was the summer of ‘Love’. My first son Max (brother of Luke) was conceived at the farm during a visit by my wife. The band made a massive impact with the press when we took the day off to go to Live Aid. We were having a great time and getting very good results.”
Billy: “Steve Brown told us to get down to Live Aid because we’d had a hit and we should be there, a lot of the big names he’d produced over the years were there. We saw Adam Ant backstage and he was a big influence, Ian had been into the Ants for a long time when they were underground and then they created this big glam rock pop, it was genius and well produced. It was a way forward for us that crossover.”
Ian: “The other big memory of the time was Live Aid. Our managers had Big Country on and they had bought us tickets so we drove back to London from Oxfordshire with Steve Brown I went onto the pitch to watch The Who. Backstage it was very strange. They had the Hard Rock Café there doing the catering and that was just surreal because there’s everyone there to raise money for starving kids in the Sudaan, and back stage you’ve got rock stars eating burgers.
I couldn’t have imagined what it might be like. There were wall to wall rock luminaries: Bowie, Bono, Freddie Mercury, Adam Ant, it was insane. Evem George Harrison, I remember being completely in awe of all these people and then Roger Daltry came up and asked me about their set.
Some people knew who were because Sanctuary was in the charts but we were green to that level of rock and roll. Being in the Top 40 and at Live Aid wasn’t anything like I’d imagined, it was overwhelming. They were broadcasting from one of those commentators boxes and I was ushered into a room with Billy Connoly and Pamela Stephenson, Queen were on stage and then Geldof walked in. You have to realise I’m 23 years old, I’m not that different to the people watching at home, I’m new to all this, I’m watching at close quarters the biggest gathering of rock and roll that there’s ever been and then went home on the Tube to Brixton.”
James, fanzine writer, London: “On the night of Live Aid I was in a chip shop in Coldharbour Lane, Brixton on the way back from seeing The Mekons in Woolwich and this girl I knew from Raygun fanzine, Louise, walked in with some of her mates. In the middle of these cool flat top and goth girls was Ian Astbury, he had a bearskin hat on even though it was the middle of summer, and there just seemed to be an aura around him, he was either having an out of body experience or it was the light from the deep fat fryer.”
THERE'S A REVOLUTION
Billy: “We heralded a change that culminated with everyone buying ‘Appetite for Destruction’, and we were treated badly for standing up and saying there’s nothing wrong with organic rock music. Ian wears his heart on his sleeve, and he shows where he’s at in his dress. We were into heavy rock but we weren’t a metal band and the English music press felt scared by that. They didn’t have a clue what we were doing.”
Ian: “At the time we were recording Love I was really into the Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Syd Barrett look. I was going to Alice in Wonderland a lot, that was our headquarters, the psychedelic revolution had kicked in and I had long hair, and was covered in scarves. I was just really into Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland period, Their Satanic Majesties Request, the English dandy Psychedelics.”
Billy: “The statement was in the look more than what he wrote because he was writing about breaking up with his girlfriend and stuff.”
Russ, fan, Hull: “I remember a lot of lasses at our school fancied Ian, which I found a bit confounding as I thought he looked like the wife out of the Addams family.”
Paolo, promoter, Fitzrovia: "I saw the Cult doing a secret gig at Alice in Wonderland that psychedelic basement dive in Soho at around the time of the release of Sanctuary. The Cult were pretty massive then, I saw them a few times around that period but never anywhere so small. My over-riding memory of the gig was Ian Astbury on stage asking for a pint of wine from the bar, and I remember toilet paper hanging from the ceilings. Southern Death Cult were pretty popular a few years before, but I prefered them when Billy Duffy came along.”
Ian: “It did hang toilet paper from ceiling, which was good if you needed the bathroom. Alice In Wonderland was run by Christian Paris and Clive from Dr and The Medics they were the house group, but it was a real mixed group of people down there for such a small club. It used to be rammed. You’d see members of The Damned, The Clash, Siouxsie, The Cure, everyone would dance on the tables. I hung out with Jeffrey Lee Pierce from The Gun Club a lot, he was a good buddy of mine.”
BARBARIANS AT THE DOOR
Ian: “There were a lot of elitist snobs about alternative music and Led Zep and The Doors and Hendrix were all taboo. But thing was all our heroes of punk had finished, The Pistols, The Clash and Joy Division had all ended. In about 83 or 84 I heard ‘Purple Haze’ and thought what the fuck! You have to realise he was 24 when he was making that music which is mindblowing. That was it I’d found a new direction and inspiration and I was off, start again.”
Billy: “Elsewhere around the world the album was well received by the press because they didn’t have that stigma that punk had created in the UK. It was 7 years since the Pistols broke up, I was like ‘Get over it’. I’d been there, saw Buzzcoks first gig, seen the Pistols in Manchester, my punk credentials were as good as anyone’s. And I knew then and I know now from the original punks I know like Jonesy, they were into good rock music like Mott the Hoople, Iggy and Stooges, the New York Dolls – early Zep, even Free not stuff like Genesis. White guys playing blues rock, organic, pure and honest.”GOING BACK TO GO FORWARD
“I wasn’t into the New Romantics like Spandau, I’d been into Japan, but I didn’t like what was coming after punk. So I’d started looking back in time for influences and just found all these acts the punks had slagged off. The Led Zep obsession became pretty much full time. The Mission and the Sisters of Mercy were playing the Royal Albert Hall and they had Hells Angels doing security and the night before Wayne Hussey and I went to see Killing Joke and we met Jimmy Page there. He was pretty fucked up and incoherent but we were blown away meeting him. We were just “You’re Jimmy page, you’re Jimmy Page.”
Billy: “The thing with Cult has always been the marriage of my guitar playing and his vocal style. That’s the essence of it.”
Second Skin, fan, Leeds: “I was 15 going on 16 when Love came out & had been into them for about a year, thanks to my older brother being a fan of SDC/DC & Dreamtime era Cult. As it happened, he hated Love but that was when I really got into them. It's definitely in my top 5 all time albums!”