An early photo of Southern Death Cult. Vocalist Ian Astbury is pictured to the far left.
“I was a devotee of Crass, and it had a huge, huge influence on me. I saw those guys 36 times. I used to follow them.”
—Vocalist Ian Astbury of The Cult reflecting on his youth.
While the statement above from a young Ian Asbury of The Cult sounds like the ideal formative punk rock experience, it left the then eighteen-year-old Astbury homeless and dependant on dole checks which amounted to around 40 U.S. dollars each week. While he was obsessively following Crass around on tour, he met up with a group of punks from Bradford, a town in the north of England, who offered him a room to stay in anytime he found himself there. With little going for himself and tired of sleeping in bus stations, Astbury headed off to Bradford. When he arrived, he found their squat was inhabited by all kinds of counter-culture types—writers, painters, and of course, musicians. At the time, Astbury had cultivated quite a striking look for himself which was reminiscent of Adam Ant’s Native American war paint persona only tougher (and a bit lower rent.) Astbury’s mohawk and unique style impressed the band that was rehearsing in the basement of the Bradford squat. In need of a vocalist, they asked Astbury to join them and Southern Death Cult was born.
The band started making music immediately, and their first live gig would take place less than a year after Astbury’s arrival in Bradford, at the Queen’s Hall in 1981. In 1982 the band would finally release their first studio recordings—a three song seven-inch that hit number one on the UK Independent Singles Chart. Following this success, Southern Death Cult took to the road touring with several bands including Bauhaus. The group seemed to have everyone’s attention including the legendary BBC disc jockey John Peel. Peel would record a live session with Southern Death Cult that was broadcast on the BBC on June 10th,1982. Sadly, the band would call it quits when Astbury pulled the plug on SDC in February of 1983.
After they disbanded, the groups only record, The Southern Death Cult, was released by Beggars Banquet which included everything from the 1982 seven inch and the Peel sessions from 1982. Following their breakup, Astbury joined forces with Theatre of Hate guitarist Billy Duffy, who was once in a band called the Nosebleeds with Morrissey. Duffy was also longtime pals with future Smiths’ guitarist Johnny Marr. The two spent their younger days as kids listening to punk rock and learning how to play the guitar together. In fact, we have Duffy to thank for introducing Marr to Mozzer at a Patti Smith gig in 1978. You can probably figure out how that all played out without too much effort.
Once Duffy and Astbury got together, they would change the band’s name to Death Cult hoping for some residual notoriety left over from Astbury’s previous band. They would put out some well-received singles, and their loyal fans would pack any room the band played. Then, in 1984, Death Cult officially became The Cult announcing their new name when they appeared on The Tube in January. And the rest, as they say, is history. I’ve posted some cool ephemera from The Cult’s early days below including video footage of the band before Astbury fully transitioned his look to be more in line with a goth version of El Topo.
A photo of a twenty-year-old Ian Astbury on the cover of NME magazine, October 2nd, 1982.
Southern Death Cult.
Astbury during the his Death Cult days.
A gig poster for a Death Cult show at The Ice Rink from 1983.
A photo of Duffy and Astbury playing a Death Cult show in Berlin.
Performing “False Faces” on ‘The Tube.’
Incredible footage of Southern Death Cult performing 1982’s “Moya.”
Stellar footage of The Cult performing on ‘The Tube’ for the first time after changing their name from Death Cult in January, 1984.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
The Cult tearing it up on ‘The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers’ in 1987
Watch The Cult’s transformation from mall-goth to hard rock in these 1986 concert clips
‘She Sells Sanctuary’: The sheer awesomeness of The Cult