The YEP has turned the spotlight on to the lives of the county’s celebrity lookalikes all this week. In the final part of the series, our man Tim Hood gives the lowdown on his adventures as a singer in a tribute band.
DRY ICE hangs heavy in the air, an artificial fog.
There is a sudden crash and a drum machine roars into life. Guitars begin to shriek and feed back, and the lights illuminate the skinny outline of a sinister figure in a cowboy hat.
Suddenly it’s 1985 again, and Leeds rockers The Sisters of Mercy have taken the stage.
Except they haven’t – the Sisters are gearing up for an Australian tour, followed by several dates across South America. What the audience are seeing is The Marching Men, a tribute band performing in the Sisters’ spiritual home of Leeds.
I might not be their lead singer Andrew Eldritch, but for an hour – between the smoke, the sound and the sunglasses – I’m as close as it gets.
I’ve met the man, a slight but commanding figure with excellent manners and a profound tolerance for alcohol.
He steps onto a stage and becomes a swaggering juggernaut of blistering lyrics and over the top, yet still intelligent rock.
I took one look when I was 16 and thought – I want to be that!
The odd thing is, most tribute acts pay homage to bands that are no longer in existence, whereas the Sisters tour regularly (but release rarely).
Last February, they played a sell-out gig at the 02 Academy in Leeds as part of a 30th anniversary tour.
They had to come back the night afterwards and play even more songs from their five-album catalogue – and they sold out again.
What The Marching Men offer is that early 1980s experience of paying a tenner and getting plenty of change to watch four men and one drum machine playing songs that have gone on to dominate dancefloors in alternative clubs around the world.
We hammer old classics that were released and rocked the indie charts from 1980 onwards, propelling the Sisters to national, and then worldwide fame.
We’re aiming to recapture the youth of the band, and that’s ironic – because I was born in 1985, too late to enjoy that golden age. At least I have YouTube!
Regardless, our audience goes away feeling like they have experienced time travel, a trip back to those intimate pub gigs of the 1980s with all the theatrics and doom-laden atmosphere that Eldritch sneers at today.
Polite though he is, the man is terrifying – he turned down, probably scathingly, a very generous offer to play the infamous Goth weekend in Whitby because he loathes the ‘G-word’. He recorded a power ballad with Terri Nunn, best known as the lead singer of Berlin, the band responsible for Take My Breath Away on the Top Gun movie soundtrack.
He even hired Tony James from notorious 1980s techno-rockers Sigue Sigue Sputnik to basically annoy the music press.
I therefore hope Eldritch keeps in mind that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, while I try to keep in mind that the Sisters began as a tongue-in-cheek parody of their contemporaries in the rock scene.
So when I put on the shades, I get into the mindset of a hip-swivelling rock-star, lapping up the applause and snarling one-liners back at our hecklers – even the tall, drunken Glaswegian who stands right at the front, swaying menacingly and bellowing incoherently.
Never mind him – I’m up there, with the songs that I have loved for years, putting my own twist on them and being praised by a paying audience to act like my musical idol.
Not only is it the biggest ego boost in the world, I feel like I’m creating a whole second chance for long-time Sisters fans to catch the band again as they were on their way up.
We play floorfillers such as Alice that get the crowd going and obscure B-sides like Lights so the hardcore fans can nod knowingly.
We’re recreating the atmosphere of an exciting period of British music history that still resonates today – and even better, we’re getting paid for it too.
As Eldritch himself has previously said: “We’re professional entertainers. You give us money, we entertain you.”
* For more information about Tim’s band, visit: www.themarchingmen.co.uk