A tense meeting at the Whitby Pavilion on Wednesday night has resulted in great uncertainty over the future of the UK’s best known goth music festival. The owners of the venue that hosts Whitby Goth Weekend have confirmed they are no longer working with Top Mum Promotions, who have run WGW since 1994.
Dominic Stokes, head of SIV Live, chaired the meeting and confirmed that a breakdown in the relationship between the managers of the Pavilion and the promoters behind Whitby Goth Weekend had occurred. He referred to increasing difficulty in negotiations and alluded to provocative comments on social media that led SIV to be concerned about the “safety and well-being of their staff”.
Top Mum Promotions staff, including original WGW founder Jo Hampshire, were present and hit back at SIV, accusing them of inflexibility in negotiations, and insufficient respect for the importance that Whitby Goth Weekend has to the entire festival and Whitby as a whole.
The accusation was also made that SIV were unwilling to confirm the dates going forward, and that was preventing Top Mum Promotions from negotiating with bands, but Mr. Stokes stood his ground and indicated the dates were very much fixed in SIV’s diary right into the following year and beyond if necessary.
Then, Mr. Stokes made it clear that SIV were not at all interested in a ‘land grab’ or making any plans to run a successor event themselves – whilst paying tribute to the extraordinary work Top Mum Promotions have put into founding and operating Whitby Goth Weekend. SIV are seeking new promoters to work with to run an event at the Pavilion on the dates that traditionally have held goth weekend – from October this year, and into the future.
Representatives from local businesses in Whitby pressed Mr. Stokes for reassurances that SIV are committed to holding a new event, that they will find a new promoter and that if necessary, SIV will help project manage to ensure an event goes ahead – to which Mr. Stokes cautiously agreed.
It has been quite clear from repeated comments that SIV are not seeking ownership or management of events during the goth festival – further confirmed when Mr. Stokes reserved the right as owners to close the Pavilion during the October weekend, should the situation require it.
Suggestions were also made by promoters not linked to Whitby, to consider introducing a ‘promoter’s cooperative’ with multiple interested parties working together for a new event at the Pavilion – the implication also being to hopefully move past the often fractious relationship between events promoters in Whitby during the festival. The concept of working through a committee of intermediaries was tentatively agreeable to both SIV and Top Mum Promotions, but no firm agreement was established.
I asked if SIV would commit to keeping the community updated as to their progress, and Mr. Stokes agreed. He made the point that SIV have no obligation to help run any event, as they are only venue owners – but reminded us of SIV’s community obligations as a charitable foundation, and stressed his enthusiasm to help support an event he termed a ‘cultural phenomenon’!
SIV are committed to working with any promoter – or group thereof – that is interested in running an event, and Mr. Stokes added it would not necessarily be the highest bidder either, indicating a set of requirements he was not at that time ready to release. A committee of interested parties outside the goth community – SIV, Scarborough council, the local tourism board and police representatives – was proposed, and may be introduced in the future as a group working with a promoter or promotions group, at the Pavilion.
Ultimately, the meeting concluded without delivering on its main objective of charting a way forward. What has been established is that Top Mum Promotions are no longer running an event at the Pavilion, but appear to be committed to running an event elsewhere on the same date. I reached out to Jo Hampshire after the event, and she responded saying
“There is so much more that I could say but what’s important now is to move on for the greater good. My priority always has been the longevity of the goth scene in the UK.”
She then referred to the statement published on the official Whitby Goth Weekend Facebook page, confirming that their event will continue – with traders catered for at the traditional venues of the Leisure Centre and Brunswick Centre. Music events will also continue at the Abbey Wharf which has previously held regular events as part of the official WGW Fringe.
I also reached out to Mr. Stokes of SIV Live, who came back promptly to say
I am totally committed to moving the festival forward and we will be working with partners who have the best interests in the town and the festival as a whole.
SIV now face the unenviable task of sourcing a competent promoter or group of promoters, who can secure eight bands including two headline acts, inside of four months.
The events of Wednesday have shone a light on the peculiar arrangement that exists behind the UK’s most notorious goth event. To SIV, local business owners, tourists, visitors and anyone not enmeshed in the UK goth scene, the entire breakdown appears to be a bizarre and petty slice of goth politics. This is in fact the case.
More than that, it brings into question what the significance of the events at the Pavilion are. As the police representatives reminded us, far more people visit Whitby for the spectacle than for the band lineup. Even in the goth community, how many attend the Pavilion to see the bands? From a cold, practical business perspective, questions must be asked about how to attract attendees in a competitive market. April’s event at the Pavilion was downsized to the Theatre Room of the building, and even that was not filled.
Why, then, do we perceive Top Mum Promotions and Whitby Goth Weekend as the unchallenged and unimpeachable arbiter of events in Whitby? Credit must be paid to their hard work in the past, but calm perspectives must now consider what can be done in the future.
One local business owner at the back of the room stated “The days of the event at the Spa Pavilion setting the dates of goth weekend have passed.” As the corporate owners of Whitby Goth Weekend’s physical home look to a new event, and the community – goths and locals alike – reconsider the entire festival, that statement seems to ring very true indeed.