published: 12 /
Denzil Watson reflects on a new expanded five-CD box set from 1980's post-punks Theatre of Hate, which as well as featuring the original 1981 and 1982 live albums 'He Who Dares Wins' recorded in Leeds and Berlin, has three additional gigs recorded between 1982 and 2012
With Theatre of Hate currently enjoying somewhat of a renaissance with the release of their excellent second album 'Kinshi' last year, a mere 34 years after their 1982 debut LP 'Westworld', the release of this epic five-disc live box-set makes perfect sense and a must-have for Theatre of Hate fans. Emerging out of the embers of the Pack in 1980, Theatre of Hate very quickly established a reputation as an explosive live act with Brandon’s powerful and operatic voice and John ‘Boy’ Lennard’s haunting sax standing them apart from the rest of the post-punk Goth wannabies. Ex-Straps’ bassist Stan Stammers, drummer Luke Rendle and guitarist Steve Guthrie completed the band’s initial line-up.
After a trio of promising singles, 1980’s 'Original Sin' and 1981’s 'Rebel Without a Brain' and 'Nero', the band made their full-length debut in the shape of the live album 'He Who Dares Wins' which forms the first disc in this collection. Recorded at the Warehouse Leeds and released on vinyl on the band’s own Burning Rome label, it captures a fledgling Theatre of Hate. With their set and sound taking shape, this first disc is more of a taste of what was to come rather than being the finished article. The set is not helped by the rather flat and slightly atmosphere-less recording that sounds like it was taken straight from the mixing-desk. That said, the remaster has made it sound much sharper than the original vinyl release. It’s an interesting document and hint of future glories to come, but is mainly of interest to more hardcore fans of the band. Guthrie left the band shortly after the album's release in August 1981.
Theatre of Hate subsequently entered the studio as a four-piece with the Clash’s Mick Jones as producer to record their first studio album 'Westworld'. Released in February 1982, again on their own Burning Rome label, the album was a little on the disappointing side. Despite a well-honed set of songs, Jones’ rather clunky production sadly failed to capture the live power of the band’s now legendary live set. Clocking in at near to the hour mark, the album was heavy on atmospherics but made up with tracks that lacked the punch of the band’s brilliant run of singles that preceded it.
Ironically at the time of the album’s release the band decided to also release a second live album to combat the increasing bootlegging of their concerts. Also entitled 'He Who Dares Wins' and recorded the previous year in West Berlin’s Tempodron on 12th September 1981, this ten-song set makes up the second CD in this collection. The jump from the previous year’s live album is a quantum shift. While seven of the ten-song set are the same as the previous live album, the key addition of 'Conquistadors' and 'Do You Believe in the Westworld?' along with the far superior sound quality mean that many of the versions on this superb live album knock spots off their studio equivalents. From the opening strains of John ‘Boy’ Lennard’s haunting sax intro to 'Original Sin' through to the primal power of set closer 'Legion', this set captures a band at the height if their powers. 'Incinerator' burns with a tensile intensity lacking on the 1981 live album; “As soon as you get rid of the government, you get rid of a drug,” intones Kirk Brandon before Stan Stammer’s bass line, quite literally, rocks the song into action.
This re-mastered version of the show is a welcome addition to the band’s back catalogue and the high point of this five-CD collection. It also holds a special memory for myself. I remember as if it was yesterday buying the original release of the album from a record shop in Lincoln back in 1982 for the princely sum of £2.99. An album which I still have and cherish to this day and one that blew me away the second the needle of my Amstrad record player hit the groove.
For some reason the next concert chronologically features on Disc 5 rather than number three as logic would have it. Recorded live on 24th May 1982 in the famous Belgium venue Ancienne Belgique in Brussels and previously unreleased, this thirteen song recording shows just how far the band’s set had moved on compared to where it was at eight months' prior. The recording quality might not be quite as good as the previous two discs but it provides a fascinating snap-short of a band confident enough to leave out previous live mainstays such as 'Do You Believe in the Westworld?', 'Original Sin' and 'Rebel Without a Brain'. Instead we get four new tracks; a tribal 'Black Madonna', the frenetic 'Solution', the Cossack-hop of 'Eastworld' and the slightly more sedate 'Americanos'. The set then moves on to more familiar territory including a welcome outing for 'Nero' and the band’s trademark closer 'Legion'. All-in-all it’s a must-have for all Hate fans and a great companion to the two previously released 'He Who Dares Wins'.
Despite recording the follow-up to their debut LP, the band split in 1983 and Stammers and Brandon went on to form the commercially more successful Spear of Destiny. Despite the success of Spear of Destiny, in the 1990s Brandon sporadically reformed Theatre of Hate for gigs but it wasn’t until 2005 that the reformation got back on a more permanent footing.
Disc three sees the band jump forward three decades to 2007. Recorded on 26th April at The Academy, Manchester, it documents the band on their week-long tour to celebrate the 25-year anniversary of the release of 'Westworld'. It features all of the band’s original line-up (Brandon, Lennard, Luke Rendle on drums and Steve Guthrie on guitar) with the exception of bassist Stammers who was unavailable due to conflicting schedules and family commitments in the States. Replacing Stammers on the bass was Craig Adams – currently of Spear of Destiny and the Mission and, of course, ex- of the Sisters of Mercy. “Welcome to your night at the Theatre,” intones Kirk after set opener 'Poppies' before leading the band through a seventeen-song strong march through the band’s back catalogue. It’s probably the least-interesting of the five discs. It might be partially down to the “straightness” of the recording or the imbalance of the mix at times or maybe the absence of Stammers bass-playing which is so pivotal to the band’s sound. Not that it’s bad! Brandon is in fine voice and John Boy’s sax as haunting as ever. It just isn’t quite as dynamic and crisp as the other discs. One point of interest, however, is new song 'The Swarm', written and recorded by the band along with a handful of other tracks to accompany the re-issue of the 'Westworld' LP. In fact it represents the only new material on the box set in totality.
Disc 4 documents the most recent concert, their May 9th 2012 show at the Fleece in Bristol. With Stammers back in the bass trap, this is a powerful and more driving recording than the 2007 show. While playing a set not dissimilar from the show on disc 3, the superior recording-quality make this a much more pleasurable listen. Listening back to this disc and one of the earlier concerts it’s hard to tell the chronology with the latter versions true to their 1980's incarnations. But then again, why change things for the sake of it? There’s a note perfect rendition of 'Original Sin' and a fantastically driving version of 'The Wake'. There is, however, a conspicuous lack of tracks that would have made it on to the band’s second LP nor is the gig late enough for live versions of the tracks that would go on to make up the band’s superb come-back album 'Kinshi'. The live version of 'Americanos' here deserves a special mention although quite what was going on with the timing on '63', I’m not too sure. Things soon get back on track with 'The Hop'. The final five-song salvo stand as tribute to the power and longevity of Brandon’s band and are a fitting end to this epic document of the band’s live shows.
So overall, a superb package with some great liner notes. While it might not win the band any new fans this box set will go down well with the many legions of hardcore fans of the band.