Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves, The Mission's Golden Years

The Mission Performing At The Astoria Theatre, London, Britain - 1988, Wayne Hussey
(Image credit: Getty Images)

This feature first appeared in the 2012 special, The Cure & The Story Of The Alternative 80s.

Mental Mick Brown, drummer for The Mission, stares disbelievingly at the square-jawed Amazonian transvestite manning the pumps in a dingy bar close to the Reeperbahn at the heart of Hamburg’s red light district. “Just look at it,” Brown says. “A brick shithouse with tits!”

Brown’s observation draws loud laughter from his three band mates – guitarist and vocalist Wayne Hussey, bassist Craig Brown and guitarist Simon Hinkler. But just five minutes earlier there had been an even bigger laugh when it was revealed to Hussey that his former boss Andrew Eldritch, leader of The Sisters Of Mercy and a resident of Hamburg, had skipped town just hours before The Mission arrived in the city to play another sold-out show on their European tour.

Ever since Hussey and Adams left the Sisters in 1985, there has been an intense rivalry between them and Eldritch. And now, that rivalry is a competition between two of Britain’s biggest bands.

In 1986, The Mission took the lead when their debut album God’s Own Medicine hit number 14 on the UK chart. Then, in 1987, Eldritch overtook them when The Sisters Of Mercy’s Floodland album reached number nine, and the single This Corrosion made number seven. But just a few weeks ago, on March 12, 1988, The Mission’s second album, Children, went all the way to number two, denied the top spot only by Terence Trent D’Arby. No wonder Wayne Hussey is laughing so much.

Everything is falling into place for The Mission. Children has already gone gold in the UK, and it’s a giant step forward from God’s Own Medicine. Just as Eldritch worked on This Corrosion with Jim Steinman, writer of Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell, so The Mission enlisted a living rock legend, former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, to produce their new album. With epic rock songs such as the current hit single Tower Of Strength, The Mission are emerging as potential stadium fillers for the 90s. And it’s a prospect that Wayne Hussey delights in.

“I can see us being massive worldwide,” he says. “But it’ll take time. Two or three years, maybe. Unashamedly, I’m convinced that we’re one of the best, if not the best band in the world right now. You come off stage and you just feel exhilarated. You know in yourself whether you’re good or not.”

Beyond the pale, The Mission going for gold in 1988

Beyond the pale, The Mission going for gold in 1988 (Image credit: Getty Images)

Sitting in a dark corner of the bar, cradling a glass of Blue Nun wine and peering through the gloom from under his trademark black hat and shades, Hussey is in an ebullient mood.

“This tour has been brilliant,” he says. “It’s the first tour I’ve done without doing any drugs, and I’m actually experiencing things I never noticed before – because I was always in a bit of a daze. The drugs induced a lot of paranoia. It was hard to dismiss any little thing that went wrong. But now… we’re rollin’!”

After finishing the tour in Europe, The Mission head once more to America, where they will be hooking up with another Led Zeppelin legend. As Hussey explains: “We’re scheduled to go out and support Robert Plant after doing a few of our own shows.” But the band’s first US tour was a disaster. Supporting the Psychedelic Furs in 1986, The Mission’s drinking and drug taking got so out of control that the tour ended prematurely when Craig Adams suffered a breakdown in Los Angeles and fled back to Britain – an event that is documented on the new song Hymn (For America), in which Hussey sings of ‘Madmen running loose’. “That song sums up America for me,” he says. “And that one American tour in particular.” But Hussey believes that the whole band, Adams included, is in much better shape now. “I think we’ll come back intact this time… hopefully,” he smiles. “I reserve judgement.”

Moreover, Robert Plant has also given The Mission his approval. “There’s a thing that Robert said in Billboard,” Hussey smiles. “He said that there’s all these bands trying to copy Zeppelin, but The Mission are the only ones getting it right because they’ve got the right spirit. That’s a nice thing to hear.

“Very nice chap, Robert. He has a few strange ideas, though. He seems to believe a lot of what he reads, which I find weird considering all the stuff that was written about Zeppelin. And he believes everything he reads about us. He said to me, ‘You’ve stolen my audience, so when I come to see you in Newport you’ll have to introduce me as the Godfather Of Goth!’ Alright then, yeah, cheers Bob!”

It’s certainly a coup for The Mission to have both Robert Plant and John Paul Jones on their side. But doesn’t Hussey feel a little self-conscious having written a song named Black Mountain Mist – very obviously influenced by Led Zeppelin’s Black Mountain Side and Misty Mountain Hop – on the new album?

“Not at all!” he insists. “I like the fact we antagonise people with the Zeppelin thing. And I actually did write the song in the Black Mountains. I knew it would wind people up like that.”

Have a drink on me, Hussey at NYC's Radio City Music Hall in 1987

Have a drink on me, Hussey at NYC's Radio City Music Hall in 1987 (Image credit: Getty Images)

What did John Paul Jones think of the song when you first played it for him?

“Oh, he laughed. He appreciated our sense of humour. And you know, I think you can hear Zeppelin in the new record, but only as much as you can hear The Doors or The Beatles or anyone else we’ve liked.”

It’s no secret that you’re a fan of The Doors – only last night, during the gig in Dusseldorf, you were quoting lyrics by Jim Morrison… “Yeah, I do all that sometimes. It depends whether the mood takes me or not.”

You were also rubbing your guitar up against the microphone stand… very Hendrix. Are you entirely comfortable with these grand rock gestures?

“Oh yes, definitely. Don’t I look comfortable?”

You’re no Hendrix, let’s put it that way.

“Well, I like it. It’s like living out a fantasy in a way. Actually, I’ve only just taken to rubbing the guitar against the microphone stand. They seem to like it in Europe.”

There are times, though, when it seems like you’re trying a little too hard to imitate the great rock bands of the 60s and 70s.

“I don’t think we try too hard to do anything. Not consciously anyway. We’re very aware of the heritage of the rock music we grew up with, and that’s still what we’re most fond of. It’s all there in our records.”

Do you think you would resent being called a mainstream band?

“No, not at all. But I don’t think we necessarily are. When you say ‘mainstream’, I think of Top Ten, things like Tiffany or Terence Trent D’Arby. I think we’re a little left of centre. But yeah, we’re more mainstream than avant garde or cult or anything. We’re a conventional rock band, and a very good one.”

Is this your strength and your undoing?

“It’s only an undoing in the eyes of the media.”

Do you hear any flaws in your new album?

“There’s that one song, Hymn (For America), that sounds quite sterile when it should have been more ‘live’. I think that’s one of the flaws of the record. You can be wiser in retrospect, but it’s still a good rock song.”

With a title like Hymn (For America), you’re almost inviting the media – specifically, the British rock press – to take shots at you.

“You always feel like you’re laying yourself on the line too much, but you can’t stop yourself from doing that. You need to do it and, by the same token, it worries the shit out of you. I went through a lot of traumas on this album. I do that every time we record.”

The first album was a huge success. Was there more pressure on you this time, to make an even bigger record?

“It was no more daunting than making God’s Own Medicine. I didn’t feel any pressure to make a more commercial record. In fact, I think Children is less commercial that God’s Own Medicine. The only criteria you can work with is that you do your best at that point in time, which I think we’ve done. It’s a flawed record, but I’m convinced that at some point we’re gonna make a classic rock record, in the sense that it’ll sell for years, like The Dark Side Of The Moon or Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. A seminal record. I’m convinced we’re gonna do it, although I don’t know whether it’ll be the next one.”

And will The Mission’s next album include Forever More, the song that you’ve described as so emotional that it reduces everyone who hears it – yourself included – to tears?

“It’s quite an inspired song that. It’s on the back of the next 12-inch.”

It’s such a great song that it’s ended up as a B-side?

“Well, it’s written now, and if I were to save it, it wouldn’t be relevant any more. I wrote it one night in Leeds when I couldn’t sleep. It’s a weepie!”

Hussey on the verge of rubbing his guitar against the mic stand at Finsbury Park in 1991

Hussey on the verge of rubbing his guitar against the mic stand at Finsbury Park in 1991 (Image credit: Getty Images)

When Wayne Hussey and Craig Adams quit The Sisters Of Mercy, the smart money was on Andrew Eldritch being the greater success. Although Hussey wrote the bulk of the music on the Sisters’ debut album First And Last And Always, it was Eldritch who led the band, sang the songs and moulded the music in his own image. Eldritch had gravitas. Hussey and Adams did not. And Hussey freely admits it.

“As far as the Sisters were concerned, Craig and I were seen as just a couple of drunks,” he says. “And that was pretty much the truth. Andrew is not a person who delegates responsibility very easily, so we had none, and we just got pissed.”

And now, with The Mission?

“Now I think we’re all responsible in our own ways, because the band has become very precious to us.”

Does it feel at all strange for you to come to Hamburg?

“You mean, because of Von Eldritch? Not really. It’s something that’s perpetuated by other people more than it is by us or by Andrew. And it’s more important to other people. Hamburg’s just another town on the itinerary, although I actually like it very much. I did spend about a month in Hamburg with Andrew just before we split, and that was the closest we ever were. It was just me and him. We were never close, but in that month, it was the first time we actually sat down and talked to each other. And then I came back to England and we split up! Perhaps psychologists will get something out of that. I don’t know. I wish him well. The split was a situation that did neither of us any harm.”

Hussey has a point. Both he and Eldritch have moved on to bigger things. But if Hussey’s attitude towards Eldritch has softened, it may be due in part to another change in his life. Hussey is father to a six-month-old daughter, Hannah. And after a month on the road with The Mission, he is longing to see her again.

“I think of her constantly,” he sighs. “Yeah, I miss her.”

Had you considered bringing her out with you on tour?

“No, it’s the wrong environment for her. It actually pisses Hannah’s mother off that I talk about her a lot. But it’s something that’s very important. I’m very honest and open about it, and when Hannah was born it had a bearing on the making of the record, so it’s relevant. It’ll all die down, although she’s quite a celebrated baby at the moment. People give us presents for her on tour. It’s really sweet, people always ask after her.

“I miss her a lot. But then, I have a responsibility to myself to do what I do with the band. If I was to say, ‘I’m not gonna be in the band no more or go on tour, I’m gonna spend time with my daughter,’ I’d end up regretting it and resenting her.”

With 'Von Eldritch' in 'happier' times

With 'Von Eldritch' in 'happier' times (Image credit: Getty Images)

Can you give up the self-indulgence of a rock’n’roll lifestyle for your daughter?

“I have done. It’s not been necessary for her, it’s been for myself. I don’t do drugs at all. I don’t drink half as much as I used to, although I still get drunk. I don’t sleep around like I used to. But that’s more a responsibility to myself. I think we were on a self-destruction trip before, and that whole scenario in Los Angeles with Craig actually made us realise just how important this band is to us. The idea of losing it had quite a sobering effect.”

How else has fatherhood changed you?

“It was good when we played Leeds – I turned up at the soundcheck pushing a pram! I do it, you know? That’s me with my daughter. I change nappies, I bath her, I feed her, I play with her. I used to read other people saying it’s the most important thing in their life, and I thought, ‘ah, you wet git!’ But it does become that. I don’t really care how I’m portrayed so long as it’s honest. Whether people like it is beside the point.”

If your daughter is the most important thing in your life, what does that mean for The Mission?

“I don’t know,” he says after a long pause. “I can’t answer that. It’s something that constantly worries me, yeah, but… all you can do is the best you can. I don’t know what’ll happen.”

But right at this moment, you think you’ve got the right balance between your roles as father and rock star?

“Yeah, it’s sometimes difficult to equate the two, but it gets easier. I like it. I’m very happy these days. Very, very happy.”

Wayne Hussey has every reason to feel good. As a parent he has become, in his words, “a better person”. And in his professional life he has become a better singer, songwriter, frontman and figurehead for The Mission.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

There really is no limit to what this band can now achieve. Hussey admits that playing in huge arenas last summer with U2 proved that there is still much to learn for himself and for The Mission. But this is where Hussey wants to be – on the world’s biggest stages, fronting one of the world’s biggest bands.

Hussey has come a long way in the three years since he and Craig Adams left The Sisters Of Mercy with a reputation as drunken wasters. The Mission are now a big time rock band. They’ve worked with one former member of Led Zeppelin, and they’re about to work with another. And it’s the scale of Zeppelin’s success that Hussey and The Mission aspire to.

“I can see this band getting very big,” Hussey says, draining his glass of wine. “But if there comes a point where we’re not enjoying it any more, then it’ll be very easy for us to say, ‘Well, that’s the end of it.’ There’s dignity in that. But you know, as long as you enjoy this, you just roll with it.”

So, do you think The Mission are rock dinosaurs in the making?

“Dinosaurs?” he grins. “I’d like to think so!”

For more on Hussey’s former band mates and the best Goth albums, then click on the link below.

The Top 10 Essential Goth Albums

Paul Elliott

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2005, Paul Elliott has worked for leading music titles since 1985, including Sounds, Kerrang!, MOJO and Q. He is the author of several books including the first biography of Guns N’ Roses and the autobiography of bodyguard-to-the-stars Danny Francis. He has written liner notes for classic album reissues by artists such as Def Leppard, Thin Lizzy and Kiss, and currently works as content editor for Total Guitar. He lives in Bath - of which David Coverdale recently said: “How very Roman of you!”