The Sisters of Mercy – Roundhouse, London, September 2019

Ever since the 2019 tour was announced, I’ve been suffering from a grim premonition about The Sisters of Mercy. Some gnawing suspicion that their touring days would soon come to an end. That I might not have a chance to see my favourite band perform live ever again…

Often, the Sisters have announced a short-notice gig in their spiritual home of Leeds under some hilarious nom de plume – my first encounter with them was in 2005 at the Joseph’s Well as Near Meth Experience. This time however, the ‘secret’ gig was in Antwerp! I realized it would be easier for me to reach the capital and so I set my sights on the Roundhouse in Camden for the 20th and 21st September.

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Can An Article Be More Insulting?

With a sound like the stone trap chasing Indiana Jones, thousands of goth eyeballs were rolled recently as the Wall Street Journal published an online article ‘provocatively’ titled Can A Grown Woman Wear Goth Fashion? 

WSJ-headline

Thanks as well for the inspired subheading, “reserved for angsty teens”. The far-from-subtle implication being that goths are neither adult nor have jobs. We’ll cover that particular mistake later.

I cannot believe how many damn times we have to deal with this kind of ‘journalism’. Every time Autumn rolls round, the weather drops, and the high fashion houses start dipping into their ‘edgy adolescent’ wardrobes, these types of columns pop up like mould after rain.
Speaking personally, as a man in his mid-thirties who works in the public sector and has skull cuff-links, it’s wearisome responding to what is basically pandering to the lowest common denominator of design and rebellion combined – and doing it every single year whilst pretending you’re somehow innovating.

I’ve wearily dragged my keyboard over several times to address this, and always come back to the same conclusions (as well as ignoring my own promises not to cover it again). One, fashion journalists need to research their own industry and realize they’re as guilty of recycling their coverage as designers are of resurrecting the corpse of high-fashion goth.

Two, they need to research the ‘angsty teen subculture’ they dismiss out of hand, and note the research study from 2006, the actual journalism of 2011, and other bloggers addressing this point earlier this year. There’s an opportunity to write a much better article acknowledging the unusual longevity of the goth scene, and to acknowledge the inevitable influence it has had on fashion houses in Winter for many years.

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Mel Butler, 2019

For an expert opinion I turned to my long-standing friend of many years, professional beautiful goth Mel of Mel Butler Photography – not to mention professionally employed in a variety of industries public, private and educational. When I asked her about this article, she hit me between the eyes with a classic line.

“If it is suggesting I should dress in beige now that I am hurtling towards 50… well they can just fuck off.”

Mel is pretty level-headed about the whole thing, and pointed out another glaring issue I’d overlooked.

“On one hand I detest it. This media over-exposure trying to make Goth fashionable to the mainstream – as this is what I identify as me, not some fashion fad.”

I firmly agree – mining our ideas and style for an ‘exotic’ look that lasts a bare season is an insult to the hard work of DIY culture and elegant design that has typified one of the world’s most distinctive, enduring and creative subcultures ever. Still, Mel is practical to the extreme…!

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Mel Butler, 1988

“Then on the other hand, when high street shops are bursting with black velvet frock coats, skull accessory bags and black spiky heeled boots, I embrace it and fill my wardrobe.”

No reason we should lose out completely I guess! Many thanks again to Mel for sharing her thoughts with us.

So, granted, this isn’t going to be a Pulitzer submission but equally no article is written in a vacuum and it’s disappointing to see something so mass-produced with barely a thread of research present – although, I’m grudgingly noting at least a few minutes with Google, looking up Frankenstein as the first gothic horror novel.

The author, in their research, also notes the transition from post-punk to goth rock from the late Seventies onwards – and yet never pauses to think, “I wonder if the fans from that time are still fans today?” 

Unlike the fashion scene, and the journalism that covers it, we don’t suffer from a shallow reset button every twelve months.

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Reformation: Rose Of Avalanche

A younger, more foolish me was flipping through the vinyl in a Headingley charity shop many years ago. I came across several colorful and complex covers by a band called The Rose Of Avalanche. I’d never heard of them, and kept on flipping – looking back, of course, I curse my shortsightedness!

Formed in Leeds in 1984, The Rose Of Avalanche catapulted into the charts with “L.A. Rain”, a shimmering slice of dark rock and roll that even caught John Peel’s fancy. Clad in leather with long hair and heavy aviator shades, the band seemed a clear-cut goth-rock success story but like many contemporaries, they didn’t fit neatly into that particular black box, a streak of independent creativity running right through them.Still, they found a warm welcome supporting The Mission as they played on their World Crusade Tour in 1987, and the full first album in 1989. A number of line-up changes followed that, and a tumultuous relationship with their record label that lead to wrangling and a split by 1993.Since then, I’ve heard their name spoken of approvingly when people talked about the fine music made in Leeds in the Eighties. So I wasn’t completely surprised when Kirstin, the incredibly hardworking heart and soul behind Absinthe Promotions, told me she’d been chatting with an Eighties outfit and had encouraged them to consider reforming…Now, it’s my delight to be conversing over email with founder guitarist Paul James Berry, bassist Alan Davis and guitarist Glenn Schultz, as they announce the return of The Rose Of Avalanche at the leading UK alternative festival, Tomorrow’s Ghosts


TBG: First off, what’s prompted the reformation? I see that you’ve been performing as a solo musician Paul, so what prompted you to get the band back together?
Paul: It’s a total nostalgia trip! I’ve been doing a moody solo singer-songwriter journey for many years – with no plans to stop. I’ve supported some interesting chaps from Frank Black to the late Vic Chestnutt and still get a kick out of the intimacy a solo show provides…But whilst I was on tour in Germany earlier this year, driving across the Black Forest and I received a message from the promoter of the Tomorrow’s Ghost Festival asking if I would consider reforming The Rose Of Avalanche. Now I’ve been asked before – and I’ve always said fuck off!
However, when I eventually stopped the car I noticed that the promoter’s company was called Absinthe – and I had just stopped outside Pontarlier in western France, which is renowned for Absinthe. I took this as a good omen and burst out laughing! Then I responded to the message saying I’d look into it when I got home….Which I did and found that the boys were mustard to take the beast on again!*
Alan: The band has had a number of offers to reform, but its never been the right time for all five of us… until now, that is. A lot of our peers have reformed over recent years, with more popping up every day, so that showed us that there is a growing interest in alternative music from the 1980s.Weve also all had sufficient time to mentally recover from the trials and tribulations that dogged the band from (almost) the beginning e.g. line up changes, legal battles with record and publishing companies, poor management choices…Finally, we all want this second opportunity to put the record straight and to show what we can really do without the constraints of the issues described above. The three original band members moved from learning new instruments to having a John Peel session and Festive 50 entry in less than 18 months.
The follow up singles all charted high in the Indie Charts, before things started to slip. This is the perfect opportunity to right a few wrongs!*
Glen: The reformation has been suggested once or twice before but there was always some hitch. This time things just came together – the planets must have been aligned correctly or something!


TBG: Allan pointed out that there’s still an audience out there for Eighties alternative music. Have you got any theories for what keeps goths, grebos, punks, rockers and the rest of the crowd in black coming back for more?!
Glenn: I think that there are only two sorts of music – good and bad – The Rose material is good. It stands up remarkably well, and in a strange way it articulated a feeling that was common at the time.During the 80’s we were deluged with completely disposable, plastic music – I’d been turned onto music in a previous era when bands wrote songs about real events or ongoing human drives so for me the 80’s were a kind of hell on earth and the utter dross that I was subjected to didn’t reflect my reality at all.
The 80’s were Thatcher’s Britain and the everyday reality that I saw was poverty and deprivation. None of the shiny, happy people on TOTP mentioned any of that. Everyone I knew was in the same boat so bands and music that acknowledged that reality resonated with me and presumably with all the other people in a similar situation.Any hint of ‘darkness’ was carefully expunged from mainstream media so music that contained ‘angst’ or any of the darker emotions spoke to me. Looking back I feel that we were the reality. I have a great deal of affection for the music of bands like The Sisters of Mercy and others, because they helped me through some of the worst times of my life and I presume that lots of other people have similar feelings – that’s why the demand for those bands is as high as it is.


TBG: You were singled out early by John Peel, which I imagine did you some favours! These days, it’s all about getting your music on YouTube and all over social media. Have we advanced, or are we missing a keen musical prophet like John?
Paul: Oh, I’m sure there are music maniacs out there like Peely that simply want to wave a flag for the underdog and give it a voice, but the jam is spread much too thinly these days.

In the 80’s the media outlets were not so plenty, apart from fanzines. I loved fanzines – every body I knew was interested in the underground scene and read the same music mags, and yes we all sat up late recording onto cassettes what JP was playing on the radio. With the social media sites these days, it brings a much larger scope, but not as mischievous…!


TBG: You had some superb support slots, especially with legendary rockers The Mission on their World Crusade tour in 1987 – any really stand-out memories or anecdotes… or is it all a blur?!
Paul: Partly a blur, but I have been blessed and cursed to remember even when totally out of it.I remember staying as long as possible every night in the backstage of The Mission’s dressing room and getting as drunk as inhumanly possible, not because it was fascination, although it could be, but more because we had no hotel and slept in a fucking converted horse box! It was a harsh winter and the toilet bucket thing at the back was alway frozen…I have a million stories from that tour but we don’t have time now… It was a fantastic experience that we were not ready for!


TBG: How does it feel to be playing together again? Can you give any hints as to what fans can expect when you play Tomorrow’s Ghosts Festival in 2020?
Glen: I found it surprisingly easy. I expected a period of awkwardness but it felt like we’d never been away. In fact it feels better than the first time round because we’ve been laughing a lot – I don’t remember an awful lot of laughter back in the day.We’re trying to have a good time and enjoy it as well as getting it right. What we’re going to do is go out and play some songs as well as we possibly can
Alan: Were much more professional and organised. Were also ensuring that we have total control over what we do and how we do it… we took some big knocks the first time around and have learned from those mistakes.
When you play Too Many Castles together for the first time in 30 years, it’s really not meant to sound THAT good – it’s really good!
Alan: I can assure you that we will be giving everything that we have in order to ensure that we put on the best live show ever played by The Rose of Avalanche. We have an amazing set and big ideas for the live show. We can’t wait.


TBG: It’ll be great to see you at Tomorrow’s Ghosts, it’s a massive beacon of quality alternative music right here in the North. Are there any plans to play elsewhere in the UK or even abroad?
Paul: Too early to say! It’s funny being in a band, you have to suggest and negotiate what the moves are. New territory for me! The goal for the moment is this festival, but I think there are other things on the horizon if we want them, step by step stone by stone….
Alan: We won’t be committing to anything just yet. Let’s see how it goes, what the fans think and how we feel. We’re looking into a couple of support slots as warm ups for Whitby and there is the possibility of us appearing at big festivals in Europe…
Glenn: Hm’m – that’s a toughie! We’ve all got other things that we’re doing so it would depend on what happens and how we could fit things in.Originally the idea for me was to walk on stage stone cold sober and play the songs properly so that I could walk off at the end of the gig and say ‘that’s it – that’s what I should have done 30 years ago’. That would exorcise some demons and give me a bit of closure. If that was the end of it I wouldn’t really mind but we’ll have to see…Do you have a message for the fans who’ve been waiting more than twenty years for this news?
Glenn: Sorry! My alarm didn’t go off and I overslept!


You can follow The Rose Of Avalance across social media: on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram and Soundcloud. They’re one of the earliest announcements for Tomorrow’s Ghosts Festival, April 2020. Continue following The Blogging Goth for more news on this and other key events in the alternative calendar!

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“I can only receive” – Gary Numan, ‘Cars’ 21/08/79

2019 continues to be a year of celebrations as anniversary after anniversary proceeds – 1979 being a launching pad for the definitive tracks in the goth subculture. From the unassailable Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division on 15th June, through the colossal Bela Lugosi’s Dead from Bauhaus on 6th August, to today’s (thirtieth) birthday of the impeccable Lovesong by The Cure, we’ve enjoyed four decades of some of the finest goth music going.

However nobody emerges fully formed and goth educated from the crypt, and before I even knew who Marilyn Manson was, let alone Peter Murphy, I caught a snippet of music that was originally released on 21st August 1979, but now it was on an unlikely advert playing when I was just eleven…

Something about this electro-rock ditty tugged at my impressionable mind. That was the plan of course. Ex-Tubeway Army singer and now solo artist Gary Numan specifically wrote “Cars” to be a catchy pop song and it performed, topping the charts here and scoring the highest for Numan in the US as well.
It charted again when it sound-tracked the above beer advert, and inadvertently steered me in the direction of new wave which is a gateway sound to a whole world of alternative music. The dark tide of goth music was poised to fall on me, but I’d first spend my teens drifting around new wave, futurism and light Eighties electronica…

down in the park

I should give thanks here to my Mum, who has an excellent and eclectic taste in music and helped introduce me to the wider Gary Numan sound. She helped me get his cassettes (why not ask your parents what they are) and CDs, and I devoured his production.
I also became entranced by his look. He was pale and slightly built with dark hair, very similar to myself – but he was successful and accomplished. He also wore exotic makeup and elegant suits, symbols of transgression and power that enchanted and overawed me.

And he was aloof, even arrogant – robotic and superior. The mingled sci-fi desires and burgeoning self-esteem issues that would come to define my adolescence didn’t touch the synthetic singer with his perfectly programmed machine mind. It turns out that was very much an act by Numan and for much the same reasons, but it was a blueprint for me at a crucial and formative age.

Returning to the music, I nowadays feel envious of US markets – the B-side to Cars was the equally impressive Metal, an opinion shared by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails who covered it in 2000 and did a superb job. My passions for Numan’s output surged for firm favourites like Are ‘Friends’ Electric and I actually maintain my strongest love for the Tubeway Army non-starter of this auspicious year, Down In The Park.

Numan Hull

The Blogging Goth pauses to selfie with the synthetic singer

But whenever I hear that hypnotic drum attack intro, I’m transported back many years to being perched in front of a TV in the mid-Nineties when I first heard it, and felt like a switch had flipped in my biotech brain. The year before last, I was lucky enough to be right down the front at Gary Numan’s gig in Kingston-upon-Hull (with my still cool Mum!) and after performing his epic single My Name Is Ruin with his unbelievably talented daughter Persia, he played Cars, just feet from where I was stood.

I count myself very lucky – like many musicians cursed with an early hit, he’s had a tumultuous relationship with this track. It’s a testament to his good nature, and to the enduring strength of this odd little Eighties cyber-pop tune, that it remains in his set where it thrills me again, so many years after its initial, immense impact.

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Bela Lugosi’s (still) Dead: 1979 – 2019

bela-lugosis-dead

“White on white, translucent, black capes…”

Nine and a half minutes of exploratory, indulgent and spine-tingling music courtesy of the most recognizable post-punks going – the Bauhaus anthem “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” was released this day exactly forty years ago.

It’s an homage to the legendary black-and-white movie actor Bela Lugosi, who codified forever the visual version of Count Dracula in the 1931 film from Universal. The song manages to continue this legacy-defining journey, by becoming an unofficial anthem to the nascent goth subculture of the early eighties, and even if it didn’t trouble the charts overly much, it became a helpful point of reference for baffled music journalists struggling to interpret the baritone vocals, hypnotically rhythmic drumming and jangling, other-worldly guitars of the latest alternative music strand.

So it has remained for four decades, aural shorthand for a complex and contradictory subculture and sound. Even when it was unseated, to the surprise of many, by prolific competitors The Cure on BBC Radio 6, you can still rely on it as a common touchstone for visual as well as audible style for the goth scene.

A talisman, and perhaps an albatross. Certainly for Bauhaus, in the same way that all their peers regard the entire goth scene – a jet-black weighty bird of pompous, verbose origin forever pinned to their necks and forcing them into a box that is the enemy of any creator. And, perhaps, for newer creators – forever striving for recognition of their individual creations, even in the sprawling shadow of this jet-black monolith.

Goth is, for all its intended subversiveness, bad at changing and innovating. Ask any DJ and they’ll despair at the difficulty with which new songs are adopted on dance floors. Even after some hot new outfit has finished playing to a rapturous audience, those same fans will not want to dance to anything except the hits of forty years hence.
Indeed, those seeking the biggest audiences at the leading music festivals for goth might consider it a safe bet to diligently check off the dusty list of tropes that Bela Lugosi’s Dead established in 1979… stifling true innovation and creativity, instead encouraging us to resurrect the Count from his red-lined box time and again and again…

This shouldn’t be taken as approval of every wild burst of new creativity in the alternative genres. Attempts to anoint nu-metal, emo, or even Marilyn Manson as the ‘inheritors’ of goth should be furiously resisted. Equally, we should welcome vibrant new outfits that wear their Peter Murphy influences proudly on their flowing black sleeves. Continuity is critical, especially in this bizarrely long-lived subculture of ours, and it gives new sound a legitimacy that can be fleeting and fickle in a community regularly riven by vicious and petty internecine war.

What I hope for is the goth scene to remember that once upon a time, Bela Lugosi’s Dead was startling and risky in its unusual nature – utterly unshackled by precedence and forging a new path for musicians and fans alike. It is that dare to be different that once upon a time typified goth, and not the slavish adherence to orthodoxy that the surliest gatekeepers insist upon.

So, celebrate this Bauhaus-infused birthday and remember where we came from, but do not forget to think about where we might go, as David Haskins, Kevin Haskins, Peter Murphy and Daniel Ash did before us. We’ll never lose that classic sound after all… it’s undead…

“Oh Bela
Bela’s undead
Oh Bela
Bela’s undead
Bela’s undead
Oh Bela
Bela’s undead
Oh Bela

Undead”

bauhaus

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