Firstly I’ve got to thank Estelle of the Black Rose Ball management committee for extending an invite to The Blogging Goth to attend this year’s event. Now in its sixth year, it’s become something of a highlight in the goth calendar as a small but enjoyable festival in the gorgeous ancient town of York – and I was greatly anticipating an eventful few days! It also works hard to raise money for deserving charities, this year the very relevant Sophie Lancaster Foundation.
Second thanks must go to Chris Sherrington of premier alternative pub The Fulford Arms, who kindly offered to accommodate me whilst in York. It also meant that on Friday, after I got changed, I had to walk just one flight of stairs down to where the bands would be playing for the first night!
I noted how busy it was as well, and am informed by the Black Rose team they sold out – easy to believe as we’re packed in shoulder to shoulder! It’s a small but perfectly formed performance venue with expert sound engineers and a top selection of beer. Suitably refreshed, I settled in for an evening of carefully curated live music.
First on stage is the menacing electro-goth of They Called Him Zone. Their singer Mik maintains a reserved attitude, hissing and murmuring through his songs, and at times I want to hear him howl and yell – but I can’t deny it’s great style all the same. Their songs are pounding drum and synth tracks artfully accompanied by jangling, distorted guitar. TCHMZ are catchy, dark, sexy, but I would like to seem them explore some variety as well.
I’ve been anticipating Red Sun Revival hotly – a quick glimpse at the careers of the various members is an impressive rundown of goth acts from the 80s to now. I wasn’t disappointed – they’re exceptionally professional dark indie rockers. The levels are perfectly balanced, allowing me to appreciate that mellow bass and exciting violin sound. Rob’s voice throbs with emotion and the drums are a thudding, brilliant presence. Each track is a compelling anthem of emotion and skill, and they make grandiose nods to influences like The Mission and Fields of the Nephilim with elegant guitars and passionate, complex, weaving lyrics. They’re the distillation of Goth Rock re-energized for the 21st century and it’s glorious stuff!
It’s a natural headline act from the incredibly passionate, highly charged consummate professionals of Bad Pollyanna. They kick off with two thumping tracks, over which Olivia’s voice soars, before plunging into a dark grungy anti-love song that is their trademark sound. It’s not full metal but it’s sympathies definitely lie in that direction, giving them full scope to vent all their pain and love. Olivia croons, snarls and howls and the audience of loyal fans is with her every step of the way – “Hollow” is a sing-along delight for these hard-core followers. It’s also very welcome news when Olivia announces their third album is on the way!
Bad Pollyanna are compelling, mesmerizing, friendly and fearsome in equal measures. I’m especially pleased to hear “My Incubi”, a slice of bombastic goth metal and a potent anti-love song near the end of their set. Top performance and a well-deserved headline slot.
Saturday is the main event – combining the Black Rose Bazaar and the Ball itself. Due to a combination of a late rise and being waylaid by friends I don’t see often, I missed the opportunity to patronize the Bazaar – a regular complaint at goth festivals bringing together disparate companions!
I conveyed my apologies to the management team, who advised me they had even more stalls than last year, and were getting frequent happy feedback from visitors and traders alike. They also plan to rotate in new traders for 2019 to keep the Bazaar fresh and appealing! I’ve borrowed a few photos from the official event photographer to give you a glimpse of what we missed…!
The evening soon descended, and I carefully arranged a taxi so as not to parade down the streets of York in my velvet overcoat, flying goggles and huge boots. The theme was ‘Wasteland Elegance’, and I’d gone for a combination of aristocratic ball-goer with dystopian survivor, my outfit of formal shirts and leather bandoleers being the order of the day! I was excited to see other attendees outfits as well – the Ball brings out the greatest of gothic creativity amongst guests, and I was keen to see how they’d handle this unusual theme.
Firstly I was overawed by the appropriate surroundings; the De Grey Rooms were built in the 1840s for army officers to hold their annual ‘mess’, as well as concerts and balls for the local population of York.
I wonder if the original architects and inhabitants could foresee how far into the future, and to what odd but strangely relevant purposes this wonderful building would be put! Inside, the gorgeous high-ceiling ballroom and wood-paneled rooms have been wonderfully preserved for regular use, and was now expertly decorated to inspire the kind of decadent, apocalyptic atmosphere one would expect from a Wasteland ball…
The ballroom itself is neatly divided into a large space for dancing, whilst spacious tables occupy the second half around which one sits, drinks, chats and waits for the right song to come along. Adjoining the ballroom is a smaller room with the bar, as well as the impressively well-stocked tombola – even I walked away with a suitably gothic hairclip I pinned to my bandoleer as a gruesome, gaudy decoration!
Regular attendees of the Black Rose Ball will sympathise with me when I report occasionally significant wait times at the bar. Just a couple of servers were available, although they worked hard and were unfailingly polite and friendly. I mentioned this to the event management, who explained the bar staff come with the venue and how the size of the bar really does mean only a couple of waiters can serve at any one time. Nevertheless, they will raise the issue of bar queues with the venue, so hopefully this will see improvement in future!
The event also promoted three cocktails designed specifically for the Black Rose Ball. I must admit to being a little disappointed to find they were pre-prepared, but rationalized that freshly-made cocktails each time would have led to intolerable delays at the counter! I treated myself to the “Running from Dawn”, containing Spiced Rum, Tia Maria, Espresso and cream. A delicious and deadly sweet mix, the cream unfortunately seemed to curdle quickly leaving me a little let down. Meanwhile, a friend enjoyed the “Gods Own Medicine” (Gin, Rhubarb syrup, Mint, topped with Prosecco) and gave it five out of five Wayne Husseys! I hope themed cocktails make a return for 2019, as it’s a great idea if executed well…!
I was up a few times to dance, quite a challenge in my many layers until I wisely decided to discard the floor-length velvet heat-trap I thought would be a great idea! I could have done with a few more classic floor-fillers or breaking new tunes to lure me out more often, but I understand there was a last-minute DJ substitution, so kudos to the organizers for salvaging it – although there were a few technical hitches with tunes starting and stopping unexpectedly or coming in late!
The tunes drew from the broadest of goth ranges, really working hard to both deliver a classical ‘Ball’ sound whilst also satisfying the rockier end of the music fans in the venue – you can see a complete playlist over here, and extra thanks for acknowledging requests where possible!
It was equally enjoyable to float about, admiring people’s outfits, socializing, catching up, and considering having a formal photo portrait taken – I considered but ultimately declined, overawed by the beautiful outfits around me! I could happily have continued another hour, but the curfew of 1AM was unavoidable and fell all too soon.
In conversation with the organizers, they’ve acknowledged a later end-time might suit patrons more, but there’s always the possibility the venue may apply higher costs for the hire which could see ticket prices increase. Perhaps contact the Black Rose Ball team yourselves to let them know if you’d pay more to stay longer?
In the end, a hardy bunch of post-apocalyptic wanderers, myself included, found ourselves drinking away the wee hours at a DJ’s house further in town. The only after-party to survive after civilization falls, it seems!
Feeling like I’d survived Armageddon myself, I nevertheless pulled myself together sufficiently to attend the final event of the Black Rose Ball weekend – a guided tour around York Cemetery! Do the organizers know their guests or what?! Even the threat of a glorious sunny day couldn’t deter me, so I slipped on my aviators and strolled up to the vast burial ground outside town centre.
Special thanks must go to Clive who was our guide for the day, and who also chairs the Friends of York Cemetery, a hardworking volunteer group who maintain this outstandingly beautiful location. He was charming, funny, and amazingly knowledgeable about the history of the cemetery, as well as its impressive collection of foreign fauna.
He took us from the very first gravestone erected there – featuring the incredibly gothic line about the poor denizen who was…
“transplanted into this garden of death”
through the gloriously green landscape, with its Ginkgo, Redwood and Sequoia trees to mention but a few, to the tiny catacombs beneath the Chapel of Rest. A tiny few souls rest here in eternity, far less than the underground vaults can hold. Clive attributed this to the formidable cost of entombment, coupled with the world-famous thrift of Yorkshiremen!
It was the perfect end to an enjoyable day, at the end of a fantastic weekend, stood in the peaceful coolness of a crypt! I can only salute the hardworking volunteer members of the Black Rose Ball committee for another eminently successful weekend – the Ball tickets sold out as well, I’m pleased to hear!
I am also flattered to be invited back for 2019’s event, and I hope I will see many of you there as well – to enjoy such a wonderfully decadent and stylish event far from London is a rare pleasure and deserves our support. Next year’s theme is ‘Cabaret Macabre’ so start imagining some outrageously extravagant and ominous outfit now…!