This year, British Goth rockers The Mission are set to celebrate 30 turbulent years in the industry by doing precisely what they do best – touring extensively and reliving former and more recent successes.
Once upon a time the Mish ruled; achieving an enviable level of commercial success with multiple top 40 singles and top ten albums, as well as being one of only a handful of bands to have headlined the Reading festival on more than one occasion. Their first headline slot is testament to the quality of their early releases as it came a little over a year after Wayne Hussey and Craig Adams had said goodbye to the Sisters of Mercy to form first The Sisterhood and subsequently The Mission.
Their debut album, ‘Gods Own Medicine’, and the amalgamation of their early EPs, The First Chapter, had struck a chord and catapulted the band to early success; tracks like ‘Wasteland’, ‘Garden of Delight’ and cover versions of ‘Like a Hurricane’ and ‘Dancing Barefoot’ were indicative of their growing reputation and a lot of hard work on the road, supporting the likes of The Cult, The Psychedelic Furs and a still credible U2, as well as on their own, soon expanded their hard core of fervent fans – ‘The Eskimos’.
The band’s penchant for the theatrical, Hussey’s resonant baritone and Simon Hinkler‘s intricate guitar work, meant that the Celtic rhythms and rich melodies to their particular brand of atmospherically dark pop could do no wrong. In the period from early 86 to the end of 1990, successive releases saw the band grow in stature and confidence, the John Paul Jones produced ‘Children’ peaking at number 2 in the UK, while the first single from ‘Carved in Sand’, ‘Butterfly on a Wheel’, just missed out on the top ten. As Wayne says:
“Our record label were making us a ‘worldwide priority'” … “We were a band on the cusp of being very successful internationally. It was something that we collectively really wanted at that time.”
However, behind the scenes the excesses of the rock ‘n roll lifestyle were beginning to take their toll and the wheels were starting to come off. Internal conflicts and record company input meant that ‘Carved in Sand’ never did quite as well as it deserved, Wayne having been forced to compromise the track listing; in the words of the man himself:
“I have to say that the only true professional regret I have to this day is that I allowed the final track listing for ‘Carved in Sand’ to be chosen by committee rather than the usual practice of yours truly stamping my feet until I got my own way. I think at this point in time we the band and, more regretfully so, myself were more than willing to allow other people to make important decisions for us. We relinquished control and responsibility and unfortunately I think ‘Carved In Sand’, as an album, suffered as a result.”
The subsequent tour was also wrought with difficulties ranging from illness and staggering levels of debauchery to conflict and walk outs, with Hinkler taking his leave mid-tour.
Wayne:“With the release of ‘Carved in Sand’ (which, almost ironically, actually went on to become our biggest selling album) we were set up to go and conquer the world but instead within the space of a few short months in early 1990 after its release we internally combusted and our trajectory was set downward for the first time since our beginning in late 1985. We were never to recover.”
Nevertheless, that five year period to the end of 1990 had produced five albums worth of genre defining material and makes for an impressive achievement. Such prolific production documents the sound of a band that had hit a rich vein and were peaking in more ways than one. Their early catalogue of releases has certainly stood the test of time and is packed with classic tracks that comprise a fine record of Hussey and co’s songwriting talent.
Although the following record ‘Masque’ had its moments and there was the occasional hidden gem in subsequent albums, The Mission’s material post 1991 has offered little to compare to their peak period. The notable exception being 2013’s ‘The Brightest Light’, which saw Hussey reunite with Hinkler and fellow founder, bassist Craig Adams. This was the sound of a band reformed and reinvigorated and although it owes more to hard rock than Goth, it sounds fresh and honest. Hussey’s voice is a little more gravelly with age but no less powerful, and it sounds as if Hinkler had been given the chance to throw off the shackles a little to let rip on the guitar.
The intervening years had also seen a whole batch of re-issues, compilations and live albums, as well as (far too many to mention here) line-up changes, hiatuses and solo projects. Yet every time they hit the road there was always a faithful army helping to recapture the essence that makes the Mission such an enduring prospect; recent shows on the Blood Brothers tour with Fields of the Nephilim proving a resounding success. So this year’s anniversary tour is sure to be greeted with the adulation it will no doubt deserve, can’t help but wonder if there’s another album in the pipeline…..
In the meantime here’s my Mission top 10, which might raise the odd eyebrow amongst the faithful.
Probably the bravest song Wayne has ever written, yet it is something he is rightly proud of, given the difficult subject matter of child abuse. Lyrically, it is cleverly constructed and the urgency to the instrumentation compliments it perfectly.
It’s theatrical, it’s magical, it’s a superb slice of Goth rock fantasia – “She’s dancing by the light of the moon”
8. Beyond The Pale
‘Children’ saw The Mission take a more measured approach with a strong nod in the direction of the grandiose; as such Beyond the Pale perfectly captures where they were at the time. There’s plenty of substance to this epic song, yet it’s a great example of their pop tropes, boasting a series of killer hooks in the chorus.
7. Swan Song
Of the tracks on ‘Brightest Light’ this is the most Goth influenced and stands tall alongside the early material. There’s some superbly atmospheric guitar work from the underrated Hinkler that builds to a climax on a fine solo, while Wayne delivers the killer hook and intense finale in fine style.
There’s a wonderful dark energy here as the arrangement ebbs and flows with subtle time changes and chord progressions. It’s a superbly constructed song and is a fine example of Goth rock at its intriguing best.
5. Bird of Paradise
If Wayne had got his way this epic piano ballad would’ve been the closing track to Carved in Sand and a sublime way to close the album. Darkly atmospheric with a beautiful melody and beautiful lyrics, quality.
The opening track on their debut album was a killer cut to kick off with and indicative of the leverage that had secured a seven album record deal. One of their most enduring songs; there’s the evocative opening riff, the barren landscape of the verses and the battle cry chorus, all easily translating to the biggest stages; great start to a great album.
3. Like a Hurricane
If you’re gonna cover Neil Young you gotta do it right and here The Mission do not disappoint. There is sufficient tribute to the original, yet they succeed in making it their own. IMHO this is Hussey’s finest vocal performance at the helm of The Mission, where Young’s original is almost plaintive, live versions showcase Wayne’s voice as powerful, rousing and nothing short of brilliant.
2. Butterfly on A Wheel
The Mission always had a gift for melody and this beautifully atmospheric cut is one of their finest moments. It is a wonderfully evocative song featuring genuinely spine tingling moments; the time change after the second chorus and the ever building intensity sublime to say the least.
For me, this is the perfect Mission track, including every weapon in the band’s extensive armoury – from the atmospheric opening, through the driving bass, to the hook riddled chorus and hard rocking guitar parts – yet still shrouded in the Goth feel – I can never play this song loud enough.
For tour dates etc check out the official site:http://www.themissionuk.com/wp/