Still, on with the show…!
Friday 27th October
I’ve been itching to see John Robb’s original punk artists The Membranes for quite some time, having enjoyed Goldblade (Robb’s other project formed in 1995) when they supported The Sisters of Mercy in 2009. Ironically enough The Membranes have recently finished touring with the Sisters again, so we’re lucky to get a double-dipped goth support act at the Spa!
The band are a wonderfully indulgent, weirdly experimental project when I first catch them – Robb is playing some kind of minute keyboard mouth-blown instrument with glee! The sound is incredibly catchy, and wires the audience and band alike with undeniable energy. Leading this outfit, Robb is a natural front man, charismatic and irrepressible.
Onto the songs, and I find Supernova full of erratic stops and starts that just makes it more exciting, a frenetic punk anthem. In-between tracks delivered at breakneck pace, there’s fans in the audience calling out for songs, many emboldened by Membranes tattoos they’ve had for decades. There’s an incredible sense of community, and an enthusiastic fanbase just enhances the experience.
My ongoing issue is with the sound at this particular event. The cavernous Spa felt like it was stealing some of the deftness and creativity of this band, leaving only sheer volume as scant compensation. Other times, there are gorgeous bass-driven, dark-dripping sequences of unalloyed goth delight. The Membranes were a superb addition to the lineup and provided a really stand-out performance.
Hot on The Membranes heels – and they’re looking forward to tonight’s headliner too – comes Kirk Brandon and his post-punk veterans Theatre of Hate. As always with artists of this calibre, I am blown away by their professionalism. A performance of their first single Original Sin is flawless, absolutely note perfect. Brandon on lead vocals is utterly unchanged, a vocal colossus – a friend recently converted to attending WGW later heard Theatre of Hate on CD and marvelled at the resilient nature of their sound.
Front and centre, there’s rows of people lurching and jumping along to trademark hair-trigger drums, snarled guitars and punk rock sax – and damn if that sax doesn’t sound awesome, a strident and complex counterpoint to the rest of the band. Every line drips with emotional resonance, Brandon the angry flag-bearer of blue collar anti-establishment noise that resonates so strongly in these angry, greedy days.
I have to note that there’s a hard-core crowd – but it pales in strength beside earlier, more ‘conventional’ artists, a telling indictment of the bands that draw fans in significant numbers. Nevertheless, they bay and stamp for an encore and of course Theatre of Hate return with a storming rendition of Westworld. It’s a classic ending to a classic evening that catered perhaps more for older fans than younger.
Saturday 28th October
There was some disruption when Eighties mainstay band Fuzzbox had to withdraw due to illness. WGW responded by elevating the line-up and adding a new opening act, which I applaud – the weekend can be a great opportunity for new bands to get in front of a potent new audience.
Unfortunately Lupen Tooth failed to press any of my buttons at all. Lashings of horror-punk all fired with youthful energy, they should be a perfect tonic for the pleasantly-crusty artists of the previous evening. Instead I found them mawkish, puerile and utterly lacking impact. I lurked by the bar, giving them a chance, but could only roll my eyes at their supremely cheesy slasher-fest references.
Perhaps if they weren’t overshadowed by Vince Ripper who performs their shtick with far more experience and elan? Whatever the issue, skill-wise this band has it, but for content and quality it was a big miss for me. Nevertheless, that is the risk taken with first-time bands in an opening slot!
Local boy come good, Marc and his band Massive Ego are a gorgeous spectacle. They produce elegant and deadly tracks of artful electronic danger. However, despite the hype I weirdly find Marc a rather unremarkable front man, for all his jet-black glittery face and horns! He seemed to be pronouncing his lyrics rather than performing, with voice powerful but inflexible so it’s more spoken word than singing.
Bam! He must have just needed warming up! Their new single Let Go written by Boy George is a very modern, funky Pet Shop Boys anthem. It’s catchy, cool, and fired with energy and enthusiasm that was lacking moments ago.
Now we’re tearing through the set – I Idolize You is a cracking light-industrial anthem, which gets a thumbs up from the shameless rivethead lurking in my soul. For The Blood In Your Veins is a proper floor-filling foot stomper that has the audience pounding along – I love spotting future dancefloor-fillers! Massive Ego are very reminiscent of energetic euro bands that do festivals like Infest so very well, and it was a singular pleasure to welcome a new artist with local links to the WGW roster.
You always know what you’re getting with Vince Ripper and the Rodent Show. Ratty is his usual sex fiend ringmaster, haranguing and howling at the very edge of the stage, hanging over the front row of dedicated fans. I always enjoy the madness-strewn stage, cluttered with kitsch, but damn those search lights are painfully bright.
The Rodent Show are back for their second appearance at WGW, so you know their thing – energetic schlock horror soundtracks and rockabilly covers, all highly paced and frenetic with frequent madcap interruptions. “This song is dedicated to the life of David Bowie” Ratty bawls, hurling the band into a chaotic cover of Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).
I note the crowd is less mobile this time, seemingly mesmerised by the spectacle of performance on stage – the energy seems to ebb and flow oddly. The band roll out ever-more deranged covers of the Cramps and Sex Fiend, all deviously complemented by Ratty’s voice – an awesome evil thing.
There’s a delightfully weird moment when he brings son Charlie on stage to sing “smells like FISH / SHIT”! It’s a bizarrely touching moment so typical of these veteran weirdos. Another fulfilling performance from the ringmasters of the rowdy and wrecked.
There’s simply no disputing The Birthday Massacre are worthy of the headliner crown. These dark Canadian rockers are dripping with perfectly coordinated professionalism. They tear through their opener, and deliver a heartfelt greeting to one of their most loyal UK audiences – Whitby is guaranteed to turn out for TBM.
Then they swoop into firm favourite Red Stars, one of their heaviest and most energetic tracks. Lead singer Chibi’s voice is rich and boundless, her band a frenzy of activity. Sadly they seem to fall victim to the cavernous Spa which eats up a lot of their low-end presence, an immortal monster stalking every band that plays here. Otherwise they’re a spectacular presence, even bringing out tracks from their latest album dedicated to WGW stalwart DJ Martin Oldgoth. Whilst this can often be a gamble with new releases, it’s a promising sign that the audience seem as energised by new tracks as by the classics.
During Video Kid, a song I’ve known for years, I notice all the little live variations, quirks and additions that really make a song jump from the album or YouTube and onto a stage where it suddenly electrifies! Amongst the adoring audience, there’s more than a few hands making heart symbols – clearly there’s a band deeply connected to their audience. Moving in for the close, they end with the absolute anthem Pins And Needles, only to encore with In The Dark.
It’s a playlist that could have been planned by a fan, and it’s all over far too fast. Salutations to The Birthday Massacre for a tremendous ending to Whitby Goth Weekend 2017!
Very special thanks as well to Mel Butler Photography and Baxter Photography who always work hard to supply me with professional quality images for my articles.
Next year, Whitby Goth Weekend will be held 27th – 29th April 2018!