Brother John brings a bit of Berlin back homeSheffield-native John Higgins’ life journey brought him by way of London to Berlin. Here he found both love as well as new musical inspiration by drawing on British Victoriana and Berlin cabaret in the band Sister Chain & Brother John. On December 20th they perform at South Sea Live in Sheffield.
”We like distortion, yes, distortion and tea”, says John Higgins and laughs.
”That’s what we usually say. It sums things up nicely and means we don’t have to namedrop other artists”, he explains.
A glance around the old, wooden floored flat in Berlin, which he shares with wife Eleanor quickly reveals his love for, among others, The Beatles, The Stooges and Spike Milligan and his spouse’s taste for Henry James and David Bowie. The couple married this summer after eight years of musical and romantic partnership.
When on stage the husband and wife duo are called Sister Chain & Brother John. Stage names they both had before their chance meeting at a Halloween party in a strange, Bohemian book shop in Berlin in 2004 – not long after John’s move from London to the fertile creative milieu and low rents of the German capital.
”I was Brother John is my previous bands and she was Sister Chain in hers – it was the easiest band name picking ceremony I’ve ever attended”.
The good old days
John and Eleanor both share a love for the olden days. Be it pre-war literature, music hall tunes or solid songwriting with a good story.
”I make vinyl records because this is the format I grew up with and like to listen to – it just sounds better to me. But I’m not a fetishist or a fascist – anyone can download our stuff so long as they pay for it”, he twinkles.
The duo has released two albums so far, both recorded on tape. Even the album artwork for their second album ”The Androgyne Show” was shot with an 1860s camera with pictures developed on glass plates with ether and cyanide. The ten song collection was released on the Danish record label Sound Of Perpetual Astonishment.
The duo’s lyrics are populated by gamblers, murderers, dukes, lunatics – or just people in love – and stem mainly from the fanciful daydreams and twisted nightmares of Sister Chain. ”Quite often she’ll just wake up and write down what she’s dreamed and ‘bingo’ there’s the lyric we’ve been looking for. Quite handy that”, says John.
Two-handed rock theater
As well as playing in their adopted homeland, the band often tours continental Europe and Scandinavia with occasional trips even further afield. They have appeared in venues ranging from concert halls, festivals and churches to gritty clubs, gothic weddings and street corner festivals in war zones. On December 20th South Sea Live welcomes Brother John – and wife – back to his hometown for a single show in Sheffield, as part of their UK tour.
The band’s set up is minimalist. John sings and plays the bass and guitar. Sister Chain sings and occasionally adds rhythm with tambourine and a drum, and yet, the duo is strikingly theatrical and intense on stage. They also make sure they look the part.
”Oh yes! We do like to be properly turned out. After all, who wants to see me sweating in a vest!”, explains Brother John, who usually wears a Victorian frock coat or a military bandsman uniform. All parts of a recipe that has won them fans in all the countries they have played.
“And…”, says Brother John, “Thanks to the internet, we also have a few fans in Japan, so who knows – there might be a tea ceremony in Osaka on the horizon, but till then I’ll settle for a cuppa in Broomhill.”
The doors at South Sea Live (3 Spooner Road, just off Crookes Road) open at 6 pm and entry is £2. There are four bands playing and Sister Chain & Brother John are second on the bill. They start at 8.40 pm sharp. More info on the venue at www.facebook.com/southsealive.
Written by Lars Kjær Dideriksen