Patricia Morrison could very well be considered the gothmother—she’s certainly one of them—of punk. Growing up in Los Angeles, Morrison—at the tender age of fourteen—started playing bass in The Bags. She was in the best incarnation of Gun Club—along with Kid Congo Powers and the mercurial junkie bluesman Jeffrey Lee Pierce—and this was followed by a fabled stint in The Sisters of Mercy (that ended in court and a non-disclosure agreement between Morrison and Sisters frontman Andrew Eldritch). In 1994 she released a solo album Reflect on This and in 1996 Morrison joined The Damned, marrying the group’s lead singer, Dave Vanian the following year. Her iconic long black hair, dramatic makeup and frilly antique dresses set the precedent for the classic goth look—that is the elegant sophisticated, goth look, not the goofy Hot Topic mall goth look. She is like a dark unicorn that has been in the coolest bands.
Morrison is now retired as a musician and lives in England with her husband and their daughter, Emily. The following interview was conducted via email
Dangerous Minds: How did you get your start playing music?
Patricia Morrison: I always loved music, was music mad in school with my friends and spent many an hour in my room pretending to be in a band. David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Queen, etc. Many of the LA punks who I became friends with later listened to the same bands in the 70’s. I also liked country music as my mother listened to it and I grew up with hearing it on the radio in the kitchen on a daily basis. When punk came along it opened up opportunities with like minded people deciding to give it a go and I was one of those people. I found two other girls (most boys wouldn’t consider playing with girls back then unless they were the singer or on keyboards), and we started playing with cheap drug store bought instruments. It was all so exciting between ‘being in a band’ and going to see concerts of old and new bands.
As “Pat Bag” in 1977 courtesy of Alice Bag Flickr archive
Dangerous Minds: Who was your earliest influence in music and fashion?
Patricia Morrison: Music: The Sixties, 1967-69 in particular. I still listen to and love music from that time. Fashion is harder as there were not that many people creating the style I became known for and in LA that was especially true. Back then it was all blue-eyed blonde beauty that was celebrated. My pale and pasty look was not yet appreciated! Film stars I suppose. I loved the glamor, and transferred it to punk as quite a few of us did.
Dangerous Minds: How did you develop your personal style?
Patricia Morrison: Thrift shops and just wearing what I liked. There was an amazing dress shop in Pasadena called Lila’s and a dress there was a massive 10 or 15 dollars but they were gorgeous. Dresses with unusual designs and fabrics from the 1930’s onwards. We also found warehouses in downtown LA that had old stock and it was a goldmine to us. I just wore what I liked. There were no rules or directives. I refused to cut my hair and some people had a go at me for that but I ignored them. Now punk has a defined look but then it was individual. People took cues from the NY and London punk scenes but LA had a strangeness they didn’t and that I loved.
The Bags play Portland in 1979
Dangerous Minds: Early on you played with the Bags and Legal Weapon. What was it like playing with other female musicians versus joining the all-male bands you played with after?
Patricia Morrison: Any females I have played with have been strong characters and in some ways more single-minded than the men. Also, back then you had to try harder if you were a girl. As I started playing with women first, it never seemed odd or different to me—it was down to the individual’s personality so not much difference looking back on it. Male and female, we all had the same problems, issues, camaraderie and egos.
Dangerous Minds: Who was your favorite band in the late 70s/early 80s to play shows with (as peers)?
Patricia Morrison: In the punk days there were so many! New bands popped up each week. The biggest band in the beginning was The Weirdos.The LA scene seemed to mix and match and sooner or later you played with everyone. LA had a friendly rivalry with San Francisco playing with bands up there as well. There were some great bands whose music still holds up today.
Dangerous Minds: What about your solo album Reflect on This? Had you been writing songs for awhile?
Patricia Morrison: As I had to sign a piece of paper to not speak of that time leaving The Sisters I can only say it was all very difficult back then and it was what I had to do at the time. I have written songs in the past, some popular ones as well. Some songs written by me are credited to others. I was starting over from a disadvantaged point while everyone thought I was financially successful. It was not easy on any level. But I survived and life got better than ever.
Gun Club performing “The Lie” live on Dutch television in 1983
Dangerous Minds: What is your favorite band you’ve played in?
Patricia Morrison: A tie—Gun Club and The Damned. Gun Club was a real one off and innovative in its glorious insanity and sense of adventure in music and touring. Amazing experiences and special one off musical moments, exhilarating and excruciating. The world was different then and travelling was exciting and places very different from the globalization we have now with the same businesses, shops and attitudes. You can be in different countries and the cities now have a lot of similarities but a few decades ago it was facing the unknown each time you drove into a new place and I loved that.
The Damned for the same reasons and I was a fan beforehand so it was incredible to me I was actually in The Damned. Before me, Paul Gray was in the band and quit after being hit with a beer glass. Captain asked me if I would play and I said I would give it a go. I stayed in the band until I was eight months pregnant with Emily. By the end I had to hold the bass to the side of me. I did a US tour, one last London gig and put my bass away.
Dangerous Minds: What was it like transitioning from musician to mother?
Patricia Morrison: Wonderful, frightening and exhausting. It wasn’t something that was being aimed for but that is when stuff like that happens! As I said, I worked right up until I had to stop and was exhausted. I was ready to hang up the bass. Once when Emily was three months old, the new bass player was unable to do a gig at a festival so they asked me and we drove up to Birmingham, I believe, and I played the set. Emily was backstage with two trusted friends during the set and I was amazed by my need to get the hell off that stage and get back to her. The band asked if I missed being on stage and I truthfully said “No.”
Dangerous Minds: Does your daughter play music/have a favorite band?
Patricia Morrison: Emily plays violin, piano and clarinet. She is musical and listens to a wide range of music. When she was five, I asked her if she would like to play an instrument (I was expecting guitar) but she said “violin.” She started learning it at seven. I waited as I thought it might just be a one-off idea but she kept asking until she got the lessons and never looked back. Emily picks the odd modern pieces of music for her music exams (some pieces I can’t understand the timings and would call avant garde) as well as Baroque stuff. Doesn’t have a favourite band but does like The Damned, The Cure and quite a few other bands her friends have never heard of. The three of us have varied musical tastes. She doesn’t seem that keen on a lot of current music… not yet. She just played with The Damned at the Royal Albert Hall playing the Scheherazade violin part on “Curtain Call.” The first time that had been played live and a beautiful memory for both of them.
Dangerous Minds: Do you have any musical projects in the works right now?
Patricia Morrison: No, but I know Alice Bag has an album coming out and another friend Fur Dixon is also just starting to do gigs and in the middle of recording so that is fantastic. I hear she just had a show in Tarzana and it was sold out with a great audience reaction. I do get a thrill knowing others who left a mark on the music scene are still making music and enjoying it. They are the real deal.
The Sisters of Mercy “Lucretia My Reflection”