By Jordan Mooney.
Photographs by Zhaos Photography.
As alternative events pop up across the United Kingdom and steadily grow into more viable rivals, Whitby Goth Weekend, one of the longest running in the list of weird and wonderful festivals, continues to adapt and experiment in order to challenge the younger upstarts.
It’s easy to see why Whitby Goth carries an everlasting appeal, but, as young people enter the idea of ‘goth’ at a steadily declining pace, and the existing audience steadily grows older, the idea of expanding and fiddling about with the formula is utterly essential to keep the event alive.
Last year, Whitby’s premiere weekends of the year found themselves in a bit of a tussle with these challengers across the isles, and it seemed almost as if 2014 would be a stalemate. In order to combat that, Whitby Goth Weekend of April 2014 seems to tick more boxes and plunge its immaculate purple nails (and slightly less immaculate fangs) into more delicious, varied fruit pies than one might expect.
Let’s start with the events surrounding what makes up the bulk of Goth Weekend.
Whitby is a beautiful, but bleak. Bleak, but pleasant and welcoming. In many ways, the entire town is like a gorgeous contradiction, and it’s utterly perfect for a Gothic event. When it’s swarmed with steampunkers, cybergoths and ladies in corsets, it doesn’t look that unusual. In fact, it looks like a match made in heaven. Whitby Goth Weekend has a fine asset in the sense of location, that perfect Victorian seaside town which acts as a safe haven for the weird and wonderful. The eccentric, the odd, the dark and the macabre all have as much a place here as Elizabeth the steam bus and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
This event seemed just as popular as our first visit in 2013, and to see so many wonderfully odd people roaming the coastal paths and cramped, dark lanes of one of my favourite places in the world continues to be both thrilling and immensely comforting.
— THE BIZARRE BAZAAR —
The Pavilion, Leisure Centre, Rifle Club, and, a new location for 2014, The Brunswick Centre, were all filled with alternative market stalls and retailers, ranging from delicious ranges of fudge to taxidermy’d ducks done up as Jack the Ripper. There was a massive range of utterly fascinating objects, and due to the completely free nature of the market, it’s typically attended by locals of Whitby as well as attendees of the event itself.
This, the Bizarre Bazaar, is a well regarded aspect of the weekend, and the extra venue in this case only further increased opinion and scope on the matter – the Brunswick Centre is not a large place, but being able to simply attend another venue to look around can make all of the difference to an attendee’s experience regardless.
It’s not so much about the number of stalls, really – one would say it’s more about the amount of places in Whitby catering to the event and its guests.
The Pavilion, of course, works as the main ‘hub’ for the event and in this case seemed fuller than ever (meaning the only other Whitby Goth Weekend I’ve attended…Last April’s Friday event…ahem!) with weird and wonderful traders – and as ever many of them were so beautifully odd I dare say you’d never catch sight of them elsewhere.
Of particular note for me is Discombobulous, a relatively small but very eclectic and passionate steampunk stall that’s stationed at the Rifle club. These people are incredibly approachable, very ‘clued in’ and pleasant and put together some incredibly wonderful little trinkets, including parasitic worms in bottles. They also sell antiques and mechanical oddities – both of which are a small passion of mine – at very reasonable prices and really are worth a look around and a chat. The beauty of the stall is it isn’t firmly steampunk – it’s just a little bit of all the different ethics that make up the movement.
I also feel the need to bring note to the Famous Fudge Bar at the leisure centre. Vimto flavoured fudge is my new addiction. It’s as terribly vice-inducing as honey flavoured ales to your writer. the gentleman running the stall was very friendly and struck as being a pure artist of wonderful fudgey goodness at work. Cookie Dough, Irn Bru, Jagermeister and something rolled in peanuts also featured in the selection.
As you can probably imagine it was quite a popular stall. Goths love fudge. If you ever want to go Goth hunting, use fudge. It’ll work.
We also had a wonderful chat with the main populous of the Island of Doctor Geof, a stall of beauteous steampunk and alternative posters, prints and comic books ranging from posters of jam sponge, tea, unfathomably tall top hats, and his perhaps most kinky creation, Fetishman, telling the story of an unlikely and slightly crap superhero clad in an all-over leather outfit and his sidekick, Lactose Intolerant Boy.
Doctor Geof himself was a very, very pleasant man who was incredibly enthusiastic about talking to us and really oozed passion for his strange and very funny creations, including upcoming art exhibitions and the correct way to make tea. He wasn’t alone on his stall, either, but for the utter life in me I can’t remember the other gentleman’s name. I’m not even sure if he even introduced himself. I hope he’s reading this so he can inform me of his public title. For now, all I can inform you all is he is a wonderful gent, too, and is very clued in about the many varieties of top hat on the market – even throwing in some music recommendations for our little ‘zine.
These two gentlemen are excellent. Excellent ladies and gentlemen are a theme of Whitby Goth Weekend, many of them the weird and wonderful traders that, for many, act as a first welcome and strongest hospitality of the event itself.
Most of them are regulars, and have attended for years in a row – and never seem to drop the ball for memorable items.
Incidentally, the Pavilion has very reasonably priced drinks. Do with that information what you will…
— THE FRIDAY MUSIC —
The music on both days of the event made for an eclectic mix, as ever, of old and new, but it’s notable that both seemed set out purposefully to create a series of tonal shifts, back and forth between the darker, more expressive side of ‘goth’ and the lighter, more entertaining side of alternative music.
I’ve always figured that the line ups for these events are planned a little further than the usual ever-complaining attendees tend to realise, and the Friday evening, I feel, made for a good indicator. No matter of the musician, they threw their weights around, constantly changing the tone and throwing curve balls in every direction.
The first musician of the evening was Alexa De Strange…
— ALEXA DE STRANGE —
Alexa De Strange (Vocals), Shannon Lee (Bass), George Stergiou (lead guitar), Chris McConville (drums) http://www.alexadestrange.com/
Alexa De Strange are a fantastic experience on stage. I could very easily finish the review there, but I’d probably be lynched what with the amount of business cards I circulated this year. Characterised by the voluptuous Alexa and a showboating guitarist (called George. How few guitarists do you know called George? That amused me on a very strange level I don’t think I’ll ever truly understand.) straight from the middle of the hard rock movement. They’re a heck of a lot of fun – who doesn’t enjoy seeing a fellow thrusting as he plays his guitar? But they’ve got a trick up their sleeve with an immense vocal range from Alexa herself, who can stunningly meld between near-operatic tones and some of the sultriest vocals you may ever hear from someone with such an innocent face.
Their music isn’t quite your typical rock and roll, and it all owes more than little to massive amounts of genre-juggling, but the prototype of classic hard rock rears those luxurious locks whenever it likes, and can only be embraced.
Throw in some really tight bass playing that clumps through the speakers like a particularly hefty steam hammer and a rather excitable drummer, and I can guarantee to you that even the most brooding goth will start dancing like a twat.
Except me. I…I do not dance. No.
(I dance at weddings.)
The underline is that for the ‘first act’ – that a lot of attendees tend to dub as a warm up from experience – Alexa were an absolutely marvellous group that would in no way look out of place headlining the Friday night. They have all the talent, all the scale, all of the catchy songs and all of the pelvic thrusting we could ever need. To pretend they weren’t as important as the other acts on stage is ludicrous, and I have no doubt they built lots of fans that Friday evening. All well deserved. I might have to start chasing them around the country.
A lot of fun, a lot of talent, a lot of pure, raw, kickass noise. What more do we need?
— ATMOSPHERE —-
Before I continue, it feels right to point out something that tends to go quite forgotten at Whitby Goth Weekend’s main event – the lighting. This is a big aspect of a show, and it has to be said that whomever does the lighting arrangements on the main event is a really talented bloke.
I’ve gotten into feuds with bands about lighting before because I cling so firmly to design ideals and atmosphere, connotations, and the build up that’s essential to work alongside a musician’s talent, to make them look as visually extraordinary as they tend to bloody well sound.
This evening in particular saw some really, really fine lighting, that our photographer Matthew made a firm effort to capture in his photographs that come attached to this review. Atmospheric, using the perfect amount of smoke, and making use of every single bulb that could in any effect the stage’s presence, the lighting on the Friday night was absolutely spot on. Excellent, absolutely excellent, and cooperating with the acts on stage to a tee.
Very well done to those three men sitting in the middle of the venue with cans of Fosters in front of a series of switches and buttons. They did a stunning job, and while so many tend to forget how hard these couple of blokes work to make a great show even greater, they really are essential to the entire thing – and it’s a lot more than just pressing a few buttons or twiddling some knobs.
— COLD IN BERLIN —
Maya (Vocals), Adam (Guitar), Bozley (Bass), Frank (Drums)
Here the tone shifted into something darker, louder, and perhaps a touch scarier. Cold In Berlin are a touch difficult to explain – they’re a complicated recipe. Take some punk music, a generous, heaped dessert spoon of goth and a nice, thick slab of fresh doom music. After that, put it in a microwave and leave it until it’s on fire.
Cold in Berlin were loud, incendiary and demand respect on stage. Maya, the vocalist, is as energetic as they come, thrashing herself back and forth across the stage with her hair flying all over the place in the process, making for a surprisingly intimidating visual!
It’s worth noting – and I’ve no idea if this was actually an intention or not – that Cold in Berlin’s mixing seemed quite different to Alexa De Strange – from where I was standing the group put a particular focus on drums and vocals. With the more dramatic ambience the group unleashed on the crowd, it added a whole new realm of echoing scale. The drums themselves are impeccable, a real asset, and add a lot of pure thunder to the mix of tight bass and strong, hefty riffs.
It must be said, Cold in Berlin are a good enough band on plastic disc, you don’t really need to improve on the group’s output – it works fine as is. However, live, they feel ten times larger, ten times more intimidating, and feeling a drum beat thump out of the speaker and bend your ribcage as a group is performing can be a strangely euphoric experience.
It would be fairly easy to dismiss this band through some of their more popular singles and music videos as a typical shouty punk group. A lot of people I’ve spoken to have done exactly that, but live, the doom aspects grow ten times stronger, even more atmospheric than an already very, very enjoyable output.
Cold in Berlin are a suitably enjoyable bout of shadowed forests with whistling winds and a thunderstorm roaring overhead.
If you ever hear of them performing in your local area? Go for it. You won’t be disappointed!
— VINCE RAY AND THE BONESHAKERS —
London, UK (seeing a pattern here?!)
Vince Ray (Guitar and Vocals), ‘The Gaff’ (Drums), Ben ‘The Bastard’ (Double Bass)
Next up in the line up is a legend to any fan of good old fashioned creepy motorbike laden rockabilly.
Vince Ray and the Boneshakers are a long-running outfit that just doesn’t slow down. Why should they? Since the 1970s when they were all the young, greasy leather-jacketed layabouts that the news was so scared of, they’ve been some of the most passionate, genuine rockers on the market, characterised by effectively taking in anything from the last fifty years of rock music, spreading its legs and shoving a double bass up there.
While it’s not the highest tempo or heaviest stuff, that’s not really what it’s about. Shrunken heads, dancing skeletons and raven haired women that have appeared from the centre of American diners in the late 1950s…that’s what it’s all about. Hot rods and hellfire. You get the idea.
I have a love affair with the double bass. When I see it in the credits of a CD’s leaflet, I always tend to get a little bit excited – it’s easy to see why, it’s a fabulous instrument with a beautiful low pitch, a clear signifier for the heady, oh so classic days of rock and roll.
Live, they sound just as you’d expect. They’ve got their own certain sophistication and a very specific sound, a very specific personality and character. A defined section of the music industry at their feet. The double bass was their unique selling point at this particular event only if one discounts the utter effort they lay on with their performance. Bucket loads of sweat and a very informal treatment of the audience really proves these chaps are the real deal – as real a signifier of rockabilly as the best of them.
This was a personal highlight for your intrepid writer. They’re great fun and rather than being something to headbang to, this gets you up to do the twist and give a jukebox a good kicking.
Also, Vince himself has the sweetest goddamn guitar you’ll ever see on stage. That thing is beautiful.
— TOYAH WILLCOX —
Next up, was another legend – however, this was a legend of a slightly different scene to Vince Ray.
Toyah doesn’t really need an introduction for most over a certain age. She’s a regular on television, stage and has had some decent radio coverage to say the least. She’s an ambassador for the early alternative scenes from the late 1970s onwards and has been performing near continuously since.
She commands a large, devoted fanbase and a strong stage personality, she is remembered by most as their introduction to the world of the unusual, going against the grain of establishment – as legendary as Adam and the Ants.
Unfortunately, it must be said, I am not a big fan of the section of the industry that Toyah fits into, and this was not the finest choice on the setlist for me. It’s not that I particularly dislike her music, it’s more that I’ve never really experienced what she does before, and the chunk of the 70s and 80s, wherein her career became such a monolith, isn’t quite the chunk I’m personally enthusiastic about.
I’m pleased to say, however, I was in the minority on that standpoint.
Toyah drove the crowd utterly wild. She’s an idol of the movement, after all, and the movement was here to tell her exactly that. While I’m not a fan of her music, it can’t be denied she’s a fantastic performer. She’s very passionate, full of energy despite now being in her fifties, and really knows how to work an audience to perfection.
She strikes as a really pleasant, open and personal performer who plans to share every bit of her enjoyment with the audience that have paid to see her. This music is evidently a life’s work for her and just watching the audience here proves how worthwhile it’s all been.
Her vocals were perfectly placed, her communication with the audience was excellent, the music itself was replicated to a tee (complete with plenty of synth, of course) and, ultimately, she’s about as practised live as a musician can get. She knows how to perform and uses the experience well without becoming the slightest bit robotic.
I’ve never seen an audience so adoring before. It’s actually quite an incredible sight.
While Toyah was a polarising choice for me, and in my inexperience of ‘Goth’, seemingly a bit of an odd one, she was evidently perfect for this evening.
— FRIDAY – THE CONCLUSIONS —
It’s here that seals something for me – the organisers of Whitby Goth Weekend and Jo Hampshire really know their audience to the finest detail. Without fail they provide a line up to energise every type of Goth, punk and rocker that has ever attended the event, even the youngest groups that are only just finding an audience seem to have no problems whatsoever at Whitby Goth Weekend.
This remains one of the truest, most passionate music events in the United Kingdom’s oh-so-tuneful calendar. The setting, the music, and in this case, the thick blanket of fog, fog, fog, rain and a bit more fog made for an utterly perfect Friday event that couldn’t possibly be improved on.
This does not mean there was no experimentation however. A larger market, a mix of the new and the old, this was an evening of continuous shifts in tone and ethics. It kept the audience on their toes and it kept a continuous passion.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is proof of a good festival. When, twenty years on, it is still exciting audiences, and providing a natural thrill, a line up that raises eyebrows, you know it could well go on for another two decades with ease.
Whitby Goth Weekend will always be the peak of alternative in the United Kingdom.
Oh, and there’s still another evening to get around to, after all. Stay tuned for our review of the Saturday evening coming up next week!
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Our personal thanks are extended to Jo Hampshire and all at Whitby Goth Weekend for their continuing support of everybody here at Cat on the Wall. It’s immensely appreciated and you do wonderful work for musicians both big and small.
Thanks also go out to our official chums for the event, Brad and Karla, and our beautiful friend from Middlesborough, Kane.