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
Song Mini-Documentary by Lars Kjær Dideriksen
Song Mini-Documentary by Lars Kjær Dideriksen
Stentor Radio Interview
Go here for Part Two and Part Three
I Wanna Be Your Dog (Iggy & The Stooges) with Lenny Davies (Acoustic) (Filmed by Lars Kjær Dideriksen)
Interview with Haselohre Kohl, Hannover
The Inkubato Crowdfunding Video, 2010
Record Label & Management
Sound Of Perpetual Astonishment (Denmark)
Distribution & Sale
Norman Records (UK)
CD Baby (USA)
Arts & Creative
Philipp Seefeldt, Kosmonautensofa (album cover design and illustration)
Dave Puntel, Central Valley Project (album cover photography)
Michael Ersted & Henrik Vagner, No Butt Production (music video)
Lars Kjær Dideriksen, Sound Of Perpetual Astonishment (music video, websites, artwork etc.)
Christof Schönberg, Undercover Media (manufacturing)
Zabo Chabiland (music video)
Another Country Bookshop (Berlin)
Leonard Davies / Fallen Men
Information, photos etc. for promoters, bookers, venues and the press.
If you do not find what you are looking for please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
General band information
The Androgyne Show Album Press Kit in English, German and Danish (pdf)
Technical Rider (pdf)
Reviews of albums and live shows
You are free to use the pictures below in matters connected with the band.
Please credit photographers.
Wet Plate Collodion Photography by David Puntel, Central Valley Project.
Click to download high quality tif-files.
Live photography by Peter Ehrentraut.
Click to download high quality jpg-files
Press photos by Sound Of Perpetual Astonishment / Lars Kjær Dideriksen.
Jpg-files and pdf-files available. Suitable for venue and magazine artwork.
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From the Gentlemen of the Press
Selected press coverage
Interview and live performance Radio Eins, Germany (mp3) (German)
Interview and live performance on Danish National Radio, P1 Kultursøndag, 2012 (English and Danish)
Radio/video interview at Stentor Radio, Aarhus, Denmark, March 2011 (English)
Interview for Geiger.dk, Denmark, March 2011 (Danish)
Video interview with Haselohre Kohl, Hannover, Germany, March 2011 (English)
Interview on ‘crowdfunding’ in Zitty Berlin, September 2011 (German)
Interview in Zitty Berlin, July 2007 (German)
Album and live show reviews
“All the staff at the radio fell in love with them. They are fantastic. You have to see them live.
Now that I have heard and seen I’m thinking: Everyone must love this. This is damn good!
Sister Chain has a fantastic voice. It was magic.”
– Jennebo Radio, Sweden
“On their Album, Darkness to Warm Your Heart, Sister Chain and Brother John have taken the
framework of the duo with all its limitations and used it to its full extent.”
– Thomas Mauch, Die Tageszeitung, Germany
(read the whole review)
“Subversive, interesting and unique. What more could you want?”
– Gareth Owen, Electronic Beats, Germany
(read the whole review)
“Sister Chain & Brother John are something else: Esther Ofarim and Klaus Nomi spring to mind,
but also Bauhaus and The Sisters of Mercy, the Brecht and Kurt Weill cabaret and Lotte Lenya…
I am at their show now and I am melting with pleasure, a different type of pleasure, one that comes
from insane twists of noise, screams and distortions… what a triumphant finale to such a
– Michael Rorberger, The Town Mouse, Israel
“They look like they should play a part in Jim Jarmusch’s film Dead Man.”
– Radio Eins, Germany
“I dare to promise you that Sister Chain & Brother John are one of a kind. This is a festival act
which stands out in the crowd, to say the least.”
– Live at Heart Magazine, Sweden
“Berlin-based Sister Chain & Brother John is a most peculiar and rather unique acquaintance.
Victorian glam rock meets dark cabaret moods of the duo’s strange, seductive, macabre and highly
dramatical theatrical universe. There is something absolutely alluring about Sister Chain & Brother
John’s peculiar world. (…) There is a constant lurking danger in Sister Chain’s shrill tremulous voice
that complements the disturbing universe perfectly. (…) There are glorious highs in the spinning
Satan Said, the title number with playful bass, the doomsday heavy When It All Comes Down and the
delicious fingerpicked On The Roof.”
– Gaffa, Denmark’s biggest music magazine (4 stars)
“Berlin based Sister Chain & Brother John are on to record number two now so someone must be listening.
(…) The majority of this stuff brings to mind the stripped back minimalist punk approach of The Cramps
performed by French-Canadian duo Vialka. If they’re not buddies I’d be very surprised. Anyway, if Victorian
glam cabaret is your schtick this is going to blow your frickin’ mind. Everything about this record is olde
style, from the four-track production to the sleeve photo, shot with an 1860s camera and developed with
cyanide on glass plates. Yowza!”
– Norman Records, UK (4 stars)
“The most obvious band to check out at the festival. Stars!”
– Gilla Örebro, Sweden (about Live At Heart Festival)
“Sister Chain’s theatrical singing with Brother John’s minimal yet melodic bass playing creates
a very intense and effective combination, which I find fascinating. An exceptional, boundary breaking,
and unconventional show.”
– Far From the Madding Crowd, UK