Originally known as first Southern Death Cult, then Death Cult, the band was formed by lead singer Ian Astbury (b. 14 May 1962, Heswell, Merseyside, England) in 1981. After a youth spent in Scotland and Canada (where he gained early exposure to the culture of native Indians on the Six Nations Reservation, informing the early stages of the band’s career), Astbury moved into a house in Bradford, Yorkshire, and discovered a group rehearsing in the basement. The group’s personnel included Haq Quereshi (drums), David ‘Buzz’ Burrows (guitar) and Barry Jepson (bass). As their vocalist, Astbury oversaw a rapid rise in fortunes, their fifth gig and London debut at the Heaven club attracting a near 2,000-strong audience.
Southern Death Cult made their recording debut in December 1982 with the double a-side ‘Moya’/'Fatman’, and released a self-titled album on Beggars Banquet Records. They supported Bauhaus on tour in early 1983. However, by March the group had folded, Astbury reeling from his perceived image of ‘positive punk’ spokesman, and the fact that his native Indian concept was being diluted by the group’s format. His new band, operating under the truncated name Death Cult, would, he vowed, not become a victim of hype in the same way again (Quereshi, Jepson and Burrows would go on to join Getting The Fear, subsequently becoming Into A Circle before Quereshi re-emerged as the centrepiece of Fun-Da-Mental ‘s ‘world dance’ ethos under the name Propa-Ghandi).
A combination of the single, demo and live tracks was posthumously issued as the sole SDC album. Death Cult comprised the rhythm section of recently deceased gothic band Ritual, namely Ray ‘The Reverend’ Mondo (drums) and Jamie Stewart (bass), plus guitarist Billy Duffy (b. 12 May 1959, Manchester, England; ex-Ed Banger And The Nosebleeds and Theatre Of Hate ).
They made their debut in July 1983 with an eponymous four-track 12-inch, at which time Astbury also changed his own name (he had previously been using Ian Lindsay, which, it later transpired, was his mother’s maiden name). After an appearance at the Futurama festival Mondo swapped drumming positions with Sex Gang Children ‘s Nigel Preston (d. 7 May 1992), a former colleague of Duffy’s in Theatre Of Hate.
However, 1984 brought about a second and final name change – with the band feeling that the Death prefix typecast them as a ‘gothic’ act, they became simply the Cult. They recorded their first album together, Dreamtime, for release in September 1984, its sales boosted by a number 1 single in the independent charts with the typically anthemic ‘Spiritwalker’. Another strong effort followed early the next year, ‘She Sells Sanctuary’, but this was to prove Preston’s swan-song. Mark Brzezicki of Big Country helped out on sessions for the forthcoming album until the permanent arrival of Les Warner (b. 13 February 1961), who had previously worked with Johnny Thunders, Julian Lennon and Randy California.
The band’s major commercial breakthrough came with Love in 1985, which comprised fully fledged hard rock song structures and pushed Duffy’s guitar lines to the fore. It spawned two UK Top 20 hit singles in the aforementioned ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ and ‘Rain’. Electric saw the band’s transition to heavy rock completed. There was no disguising the group’s source of inspiration, with Led Zeppelin being mentioned in nearly every review. Part-produced by Rick Rubin, Electric was a bold and brash statement of intent, if not quite the finished item. It became a success on both sides of the Atlantic, peaking at number 4 and 38 in the UK and US charts, respectively. The gigs to promote it saw the band add bass player Kid ‘Haggis’ Chaos (b. Mark Manning; ex- Zodiac Mindwarp And The Love Reaction ), with Stewart switching to rhythm guitar.
Both he and Warner were dispensed with in March 1988, the former joining 4 Horsemen. Reduced to a three-piece of Astbury, Stewart and Duffy, the sessions for Sonic Temple saw them temporarily recruit the services of drummer Mickey Curry. It was an album that combined the atmospheric passion of Love with the unbridled energy of Electric. A 1989 world tour saw the band augmented by Matt Sorum (b. 19 November 1960, Mission Viejo, California, USA; drums) and Mark Taylor (keyboards; ex- Alarm and Armoury Show ). Stewart quit in 1990, while Sorum would go on to a tenure with Guns N’Roses. Ceremony was released in 1991, with the help of Charley Drayton (bass) and the returning Mickey Curry. This was a retrogressive collection of songs, that had more in common with Love than their previous two albums.
Nevertheless, having already established an enormous fanbase, success was virtually guaranteed. The Cult saw them reunited with producer Bob Rock, on a set that included the rather clumsy Kurt Cobain tribute ‘Sacred Life’. By this time, however, Astbury had departed and later resurfaced with a new band, the Holy Barbarians.
SUPPORTING LOVE HOPE STRENGTH