Ben Christo learned early on about the power of music.
His very first memory of it is wandering around a supermarket in Torquay, Devon, England, looking for his mother.
“I’m sure it happens to every kid,” Christo says. “I was walking around, trying to find my mum, but I wasn’t worried because I was singing ‘Frankie’ by Sister Sledge.
“That very first memory is one where music is helping me to feel OK in a scary situation. So, from that point on, I was always really into music. I found that I gravitated toward any pop music that had a guitar in it, like Michael Jackson, Belinda Carlisle or Michael Bolton — songs that would be on the radio. If there was a guitar solo — a very present kind of guitar in it — I would like that song.”
Christo is now making memories for himself and fans as the guitarist for English rockers the Sisters of Mercy, who play the Marquee Theatre on Wednesday, May 24. He promises a nostalgic yet modern set.
“The show is a nice combination of paying respects to the heritage whilst bringing our own feel to it and making sure it’s not just like a nostalgia trip,” Christo says.
“We’re still making sure that we recognize that certain songs mean a lot to people, and we want them to sound, to a certain degree, like what they know.”
As a fan of music, Christo says he understands the importance of blending new tracks with the favorites.
“We’re bringing some new elements to the show, too,” he adds. “I think, visually, it’s going to be a lot more exciting and engaging than the last time we were over there. We have much better synergy now, and with the sound and the light, it’s very dramatic and it’s very theatrical. It’s a lot more engaging, I think.”
Christo serves as singer Andrew Eldritch’s guitarist, while joined by Dylan Smith, “Ravey” Dave Creffield and the ever-present drum machine “Doktor Avalanche.”
The tour is the Sisters of Mercy’s first U.S. jaunt in more than 14 years. Blending punk psychedelia, metal, dance beats and guttural growls, the Sisters of Mercy are best known for the songs “This Corrosion,” “Dominion,” “Temple of Love” and “Lucretia My Reflection.”
In his blood
Christo’s musical inspiration comes from his uncle, who was eight years older than him.
“He was into Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Europe, all of those bands. I wanted to be just like him. I loved the music, and that’s when it started,” he says.
“He took me to see AC/DC and Judas Priest in a very quick succession when I was about 10 or 11 years old. Seeing those kinds of shows as a child, you can imagine how huge everything was and how the fantastic the light show and stage show were. I came away from that wanting to play the guitar.”
Supporting their son, Christo’s parents bought him a knock-off Stratocaster electric guitar, which he hadn’t asked for. He was grateful because he could instantly play songs he was interested in.
“A lot of parents, they get this nylon string acoustic guitar for their kid,” he says.
“The kid is sitting there playing ‘Sailing’ with a little footstool thing that you had to do in school. This is nothing like what a kid wants to do. I was very lucky in that sense that I started playing the electric first. Electric is just easier to play than acoustic. That’s how it started.”
When he was 10, he had a self-proclaimed “existential crisis,” trying to choose between sports, specifically soccer, and music.
“I was quite good,” he says about soccer. “I was on the school team. I remember thinking, ‘I can only do one thing with my life. I must choose. I must choose.’ I chose music.”
Before Christo joined the Sisters of Mercy, he says the band was in his personal top 20. Still, it was “pretty, pretty mind blowing to join the legendary act.”
“To be part of something that had been a fairly important part of my musical upbringing is incredible,” Christo says.
“It’s always exciting for me to be able to think this is someone whose music I was inspired by, and now I get to actually compose with him. That’s really mind blowing.
“When he says to me, ‘That’s a really great thing you’ve done there,’ it means a lot to me because I’m getting affirmation from someone who inspired me. That’s very, very rewarding.”
Calling his bluff
The road leading to the Sisters of Mercy was interesting, he said. He received a phone call from a “mysterious number” on a Tuesday afternoon while he was getting ready to go to work at a convenience store.
“This mysterious voice, without any kind of introduction just said, ‘We might want you to be in our band,’” he recalls.
“I said, ‘What band?’ This voice said, ‘I’m not going to tell you.’ I said, ‘OK, well, what’s it like?’ Again, he said, ‘I’m not going to tell you.’ I was very skeptical. I felt like whoever was talking to me was very arrogant and this was probably a wind-up, some sort of joke.”
The only thing this voice told him was the band had a tour of America booked and it needed a new lead guitarist. The person saw his work on his MySpace page. To audition, he just needed a few Hendrix licks.
“I went into the audition a little bit nervous because I was walking into a building with a bunch of people whom I had never met in a town that I had only been to once before,” he says with a smile.
“A friend of mine works for the police. I said, ‘Look, if you don’t hear from me in an hour, this is where I’ll be.’”
At the audition, one man was dressed in a pair of sunglasses and a wooly hat, holding a can of beer, while the others had a laptop and a guitar.
“It was this really weird atmosphere of no one really saying anything,” he says.
“Then, the guy with a guitar would go, ‘OK, look, can you play this?’ I could pick things up by ear. I can’t read music. I said, ‘Yes.’ Then he asked me to improvise over what he was playing. In retrospect, they were asking me to play Sisters of Mercy songs that had never been released or recorded.”
He didn’t recognize the songs but knew they had a Sisters kind of feel to them. Christo figured out it was the Sisters of Mercy.
“I looked around and I thought, ‘Well, I haven’t seen a press picture of this band for 10, 15 years,’” he recalls.
“I didn’t know what they looked like. Maybe this is them. So, I thought I would do a test. I was going to play a famous Sisters of Mercy riff right now and see if anybody said anything. Sure enough, I played the riff and the guy with the hat, shades and cans of beer said, ‘That’s one of our songs.’ I remember it vividly.”
Christo looked down at his hands as they were shaking. He was nervous because he was in the presence of a band who had a large impact on him, and his life was about to change. He was working in a convenience store but also teaching guitar lessons, “hoping to go somewhere with music one day. Here was my chance to get instantly involved with an established band who I liked.”
Eldritch said he would call, but Christo missed him 13 seconds, as his phone was in another room. He called back, and it went to a fax machine. So, he went to the local internet café and sent “the only fax I’ve ever sent in my life. I said, ‘Hey, it’s Ben here, the guitarist from yesterday. I am still interested if you want to give me a ring.’
“Instantly, he phoned me back,” he continues. “What I found out later was that was the deal breaker. He had written me off because he thought I couldn’t be bothered to answer the phone. He didn’t have any faith in me as a music partner. Because I’d sent the fax, it showed him that I had the initiative to think around a problem.”
Six weeks later, he was driving through Death Valley for the first show in Las Vegas.
Christo says the Sisters of Mercy have evolved since he joined the band in 2006. The lineup has changed, as has the act’s dynamics and music.
“When I first toured with the band, the set list was a mix of things that have been written by many different people across the years. It was quite disparate. Now, we have a really nice mix of greatest hits — stuff people are going to love — and deep cuts from albums that people will know and be like, ‘I can’t believe they’re playing this, how cool,’ and new material that we, as a current band, have written together.”
Christo says the Sisters of Mercy feels cohesive now.
“To actually be performing works that I’ve been part of writing is so exciting for me,” he says.
“It’s so exciting to be able to write something and think, ‘Right now, we’re going to go out and play it to 2,000 people at night.’ It’s not something I’ve experienced a lot with my own bands growing up. We thought maybe we’d play the songs to a few hundred.”
The new songs fit nicely in the Sister of Mercy’s catalog, Christo explains. They’re a combination of the act’s three albums — 1985’s “First and Last and Always,” 1987’s “Floodland” and 1990’s “Vision Thing.”
“It takes something from all of those three records, and it gives it kind of a new coat of paint,” Christo says.
“We, as writers, have shown a respect to the heritage of where the band comes from, whilst giving it our own sort of breath of fresh air.
“I think it sits pretty well. What I find really encouraging is that, initially, when we went out in 2022 to play these shows, Andrew was very keen to play a lot of new material. I had my reservations. He said, ‘No, no. Let’s play this new stuff. We’re proud of it. We like it. Let’s see what happens.’ To my surprise — and I was very pleased — people seem to really love it.”
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