Review by Jordan Mooney.
When I originally planned the idea of travelling to Whitby for the Friday, 26th of April 2013, I was rather nervous.
I am not in what I, myself, could call a Goth, despite my love of the Victorian era and clothing affiliated. I love darker humour, certainly, and of all of the people in the world I respect most, Aurelio Voltaire is most definitely the pick, but I have trouble looking at myself and thinking “You’re a..” – but one believes all of this is due to change – I have never felt more in place than I have done over the past three days at Whitby Gothic Weekend.
This event has become an all out phenomenon, one of the most famous alternative events in the world, as the beautiful little town of Whitby with the imposing abbey and vampiric heritage is swamped with lovers of all things dark, macabre, and a bloody brilliant selection of music.
Goths are not the depressing, dark folk many seem to believe. They are friendly, chatty, open chaps who live to have fun at the expense of the darker things in life, to enjoy themselves regardless of nation and creed and get together in love of elegance, intelligence and the darker alternatives to a ‘normal’ lifestyle.
With this in mind I found myself swimming among the likeminded, the open and friendly people so often seen as the darker, more depressing current of society. Corsetry, top hattery and a few hundred thousand bow ties are the dress code – but there are simply no limits. There is nothing in fashion to dictate you as a Goth. There is nothing, simply, to dictate you as a Goth. You can be whoever you want to at this event – and that means you’ll always feel right at home.
But enough of this chatter…let us get into the meat and two veg of our fine event, and that is the wonders of musical performance, as provided by a series of thoroughbreds of varying age and experience – not one of them missing a mark, not one of them failing to impress.
Firstly, some people who are now no strangers to me, the Cat on the Wall, or the live circuit ‘darn sarth’. Pussycat and the Dirty Johnsons are once again revealing their ever-so-beautiful heads, and they did not disappoint in any department.
Isn’t that a tale! Not only was your writer (isn’t that a questionable title?!) extremely warmly received by these musicians in a chatter, but he received a call out on stage and a song of questionable content but undeniable excellence being presented to him. I am now writing from an underground bunker as part of the witness protection program. ‘Souvenir’ is the title of said song and if you are unaware of it, upon reading the lyrics you shall understand the Cat on the Wall’s concern and insistence on keeping one as far away from Basingstoke as possible..!
However, in all serious intention, I must commend everybody that makes up this little outfit. Pussycat and the Dirty Johnsons were no doubt the least well-known band in the line up – and they impressed everybody I spoke to. You hear they’re incendiary? Try explosive. The band is one of the most ridiculously infectious I have ever seen in all of my days, with Filfy Antz hammering at the drums so hard a component fell off about halfway during the set, looking like an absolute madman going wild with his rather well-equipped drum kit, Jake making his guitar quiver with excitement thanks to some rather excellent finger work, and then we have Puss, who dominates the audience, stage and venue with ease. She has an excellent knowledge of how to work a stage performance. She moves, writhes and jumps all over the stage without leaving a single piece of plywood unstomped. She is an incredibly petite woman with an incredibly large voice, with an obvious love of what the entire band is doing. Pussycat and the Dirty Johnsons aren’t just a live show, they’re a spectacle. They’re genuinely a thrilling band to watch, listen, and talk to. If you have to traverse across the country to see them, do so. They’re more than worthwhile.
Next up is a staple of the Whitby Gothic Weekend – Zombina and the Skeletones, a group of five with a very diverse range of music under their belts whom have now been going since 1998. We were based on the far left of the stage meaning we got a fine view of their Saxophone player, X-Ray Speck, whom did a marvellous bit of work – as did the whole band, truly. Their music is nothing majorly heavy or loud or in your face on CD or MP3, but live they’re absolutely chaotic. They, like Puss and her Johnson Boys, are explosive, hammering air right out of the speakers in such a way you could feel the impact.
Their music is impressive and certainly comes together well – with excellent face paint lambasting her zombie band men Zombina came off as the innocent little country girl with some deep, dark secrets. Her voice is lighter, higher pitched and a bit more excitable than that of our opening feline friend, and in many cases it felt a bit like she was fighting against the music’s volume – something that in no way seemed to detract from the audience’s reactions that were wholly positive, and something that did not in any way halt my enthusiasm. Zombina, like Puss are a spectacle. They don’t come off quite as incendiary, but this is hardly fair with two more members than their openers to calibrate. Zombina and the Skeletones aren’t quite within my tastes when it comes to plastic discs, but live? They’ll hammer it into your skull until it bursts. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what a live performance should be.
By this point, my enthusiasm was roaring. I was already wholly satisfied that I had got my ticket’s value in the bag, and we took a little time to step away from the stage a bit to empty our eardrums and have a quick beverage. We made another friend quite on a whim, and just took a few moments to reflect on what we had seen.
One thing I must say is wonderful about this little concert – when a band stops playing, their merch table is swamped, whether the audience knows them or not – I do not know of any sales figures but poor Puss was very busy indeed and her tub of t-shirts was rapidly shrinking. People at the weekend support musicians without a shadow of a doubt, and are more than happy to dish out for some quality releases. The prices are incredibly fair and Jake Johnson confided in me at it all gets pumped straight back into the band. This is an instruction, not a tip – if you like them, buy from them. It keeps an incredibly impressive group alive, whether it be Puss, Zombina, or a 51 year old singer claiming to be a medical man.
Yes, the next up is the 1980s one-hit wonder (I hate using that term. Very unfair.) Doctor and the Medics, still hammering away some twenty six years since their No.1 hit with a cover of ‘Spirit in the Sky’. We were unsure what to think at first. “Do they have any original songs? Surely covers are going to get old?” – Imagine our surprise to find some classic pop tracks given a Doctor’s twist, an extremely fun concert set with an inflatable dalek (who will return later) and a chunky fellow running about in increasingly humorous outfits. This was a barrel of laughs, with songs such as “You Spin Me Right Round” and “What a Wonderful World” all being thrown out and made the medic’s own.
This was something we could really get in to, true entertainment, and a rather large blue inflatable playing the Earth was soon thrown up into the audience. As a result we had the audience and band trying to get it stuck in a lighting rig – when this failed, it was thrown towards the stage, which meant we had everybody in the group trying to header it back, punching it and even considering hitting it with the guitar, but soon deciding this wasn’t the wisest choice!
The good Doctor Mr. Clive Jackson is a very pleasant man and very funny indeed. He made jokes about their status as a ‘one hit’ band, and towards the end, he even made an incredibly passionate speech about the sheer phenomenon of Whitby Goth. He discussed the importance of getting together, the importance of the event to him and all others who could ever be ‘alternative’. To a rousing and very respectful applause he left the stage with his very talented musicians in tow. Am I now a fan of Doctor and the Medics, a band I’ve only ever heard one song in studio quality from before? Simply speaking, they’re hard to love but impossible not to like. An excellent performance.
Now however the entirety of the audience were rapidly migrating to the stage, as the headlining act was due. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is what we were here for – Aurelio Voltaire, musician, writer, artist, animator and seemingly stand up comedian. Voltaire is an absolute riot. He came on to massive applause with a bottle of rum in hand and announced that this was his first time headlining.
“When you’re a standard musician in the set you’re told you’re only allowed a 35 minute performance. I’ve been told that as I’m headlining I can play as long as I like…
Which is exactly thirty five minutes.”
Voltaire’s songs were known by practically the entirety of the audience, who sang along with great enthusiasm. This man is no stranger to playing concerts and he did an incredible job, armed with an acoustic guitar, giving some fine tracks from his vast back catalogue. Voltaire is most impressive in that he can catch everything note perfect to his studio albums, which, in itself, is quite an achievement – ask any band and they’ll say they can miss a few notes here and there. Voltaire performed long into the night, without any sign of tiring (although getting a touch drunk) and later became acquainted with the Dalek that had been thrown back onto the stage, something he found very off-putting while playing tracks from his Bitrektual album, a release that is composed of very rude tracks in the Star Wars, Star Trek and Doctor Who universe.
Voltaire is seen as the king of Goth by many and in this case it certainly seemed true. The audience had burst into life and were having a fine time involving themselves in his musical output. Audience Participation was rife, and for the penultimate song, his classic ‘When You’re Evil’, he allowed some up onto the stage. This soon became about a hundred people, and before your intrepid reporter could get on he had to call out for no more – as the stage was beginning to creak rather alarmingly. This became his backing vocal group, and despite some controversy as somebody stole his hat it was massively entertaining to watch, and proof perfect of Voltaire’s experience in entertaining a crowd. Voltaire is a comedian as well as a musician et al, and makes for an incredibly fine, unusual but very funny performance. Like Pussycat and the Johnsons, I can’t recommend this chap enough.
He, too, touched upon the sheer importance of this event, the people and meeting those just like…well, everybody else at the event. He soon went back to his merch booth, for which there was a half hour queue to meet the man and shake his hand, get photographs, et al.
He is a very pleasant man in person, warmly shaking people’s hands, hugging and signings bits and pieces without any weariness. He listened intently to what people told him and replied with great interest – if there is a king of Goth, Voltaire is most certainly the monarch. He understands those whom are shunned for their differences, and was eager to encourage it. This man is independent, and it shows. He is not one to rush or disappoint, and it shows. This man is my idol, and his performance impressed me further that I would have ever expected.
And thus, at 1:00AM, six hours after the doors had opened, we hobbled off home, breaking all of my professionalism (HA!) by having a bit of a fan frenzy and voicing my excitement at getting stuff signed, songs dedicated and hands shook.
I am a cynical sort of fellow when it comes to live performances. I’m not very easily satisfied.
These musicians made sure I was satisfied. They gave it their all, went out of their way to make everybody feel not only at home but giving us the value of the ticket ten times over. These are hard working people, folks, and they are excellent at their jobs. If you ever see any of these musicians performing near you, go and see them. Go say hello. Go tell them that you’ve heard how impressive they are. They’ll genuinely appreciate it, they’ll shake your hand and thank you, sign your face if need be – they’re amazing people. This is an amazing event.
Whitby Goth Weekend is one of the most incredible things you shall ever see, whether as an outside or part of the legion of black that encompass the town. The people are friendly, open and never judgemental, happy to welcome you into their little family, introduce you to people and listen to you, learn about you – they are the sort who will make you feel like you fit in – you could be terrified of it all, standing there clueless, and people will stop and say hello.
Goths are not dark, depressing folk as many believe – they are fun loving people with a passion for music and friendship. Do not be afraid of going to WGW if it is your first time – it’s more than worthwhile. I cannot give this sort of event a single negative word. It’s impossible to even try. It is something you will never quite see anywhere else. It is something that can’t be imitated, something that can’t be replicated in any photography or film. It is a wholly unusual, original idea and one that really is a massive amount of fun. This is no ordinary festival. This is a gigantic family meeting.
It might seem like an odd idea, it may seem imposing, you might not know any of the musicians performing – but by the end of it you’ll not only know these performers, you’ll know their lyrics, own their album and have made friends with several people you have never met.
Whitby Goth Weekend is absolutely incredible. Fully recommended.