This blog has mused on the divisions in Whitby before, which is home to a long history of UK goth festival action. Never has it been more pronounced than this year when long-standing veterans Whitby Goth Weekend and ambitious newcomers Tomorrow’s Ghosts elected for separate weekends.
The precise details of ‘who shot first’ on the new dates have been dissected across social media with all the passion of moon-landing conspiracy theorists (including the value of the outcome) so we’ll waste no more time on that here. You’re here for reviews, yeah?
I was lured in by the stellar line-up of bands, and my good working relationship with the promoters who asked me (and my huge gob) to chair a couple of Q&A sessions with author Dacre Stoker, and a bevy of Hammer Horror actresses as well. Right before payday however, so I elected to stay just two nights – my liver and my bank account both thanking me now!
The bands were due to start at the surprisingly early time of 6:30pm, with an understanding that every support band would get 45 minutes. Wonderfully generous, but this meant the event began with glorious daylight streaming in, and many still enjoying their first pints or later dinners, so a quieter and smaller crowd were present to begin.
The very first band of Tomorrow’s Ghosts April 2019 were Christine Plays Viola, Italian darkwave / goth-rockers. Their sound delivered pure, synth and drum backed heavy rock and roll. Lead singer Massimo poured out emotional, heartfelt vocals in a bedrock baritone, all across a wonderfully complex soundscape of brooding malaise.
Next, American-based Mercury Antennae cite influences like Dead Can Dance and Cocteau Twins and it really shows – they’re mesmeric, orchestral with brooding overtones that lures you in. Backed by reverb-heavy guitars of mystical bent, the music is led by soaring epic vocals that evoke fantastical scenes from epics like Lord Of The Rings, over a beat of rolling and rhythmic drums.
I felt it was a gamble having two slower and more introspective bands open the evening, but it was so refreshing to have new talent injected into this old scene – I understand it was their first visit to the UK, and that is incredibly encouraging for a subculture which increasingly relies on the same old routine.
One of my personal favorites next, the incomparable post-punk outfit Chameleons Vox, led by original singer Mark Burgess. He retains every ounce of that thoughtful, angry and passionate style that made The Chameleons an underground legend in their heyday.
It’s a slow burn to begin with, including a heart-wrenching rendition of “A Person Isn’t Safe Anywhere These Days” that Mark dedicates to Sophie Lancaster – he even has a Sophie sticker on his bass.
Then the floodgates open and the crowd starts bouncing for “Monkeyland” and the band began to weave together their set, turning out the catchy classics like “Perfume Garden” as well as soaring epics like “Soul In Isolation” to an audience in raptures. They give thanks and depart the stage to a roar of approval that doesn’t stop until they return for an encore – and of course they give the people what they want, a wonderfully ad-libbed version of “Swamp Thing” of course, including a few lines from “Transmission” by Joy Division – Mark is a proud Mancunian, and remains charmingly, oddly stunned by the never-ending love his fans have. Spectacular stuff, as always.
I haven’t seen the indescribable, punk/hip-hop/rock/grebo/whatever outfit Pop Will Eat Itself in years and bloody years. Their music is so frenetic and manic, could this outfit still deliver those pounding hits after all these decades? Short answer? YES.
True, they started bloody late after much twiddling with equipment, understandable considering their extensive stage setup. But they made up to a patient crowd by thumping straight into “Preaching to the Perverted” back to back with dancefloor classic “Wise Up Sucker”, a deadly duo!
Regular readers know how much I gripe about the Pavilion acoustics, and this was no exception. The PWEI sound is odd from the back of the hall, with much of the treble swallowed and swamped by the relentless bass. It comes across rough as old boots at times, but crowd convection carries me closer to the front and a great balance of levels.
Hard to believe but the encore eclipses even the main set, they bound back on stage in a heartbeat and just keep throwing down class tunes. They finally wrap up with a flawless, epic cover of “Their Law” by The Prodigy for the dearly departed Keith Flint. I feel sure he’d approve of the noise pollution produced in his name tonight! An absolutely eclipsing headline performance.
Opening Saturday are Sweet Ermengarde, an impressive array of cool stoics with guitars. Their lead singer is an accomplished graduate of the Carl McCoy school, with flawless gravelly vocals. The tunes are grandiose operatic goth rock – catchy and melodic.
A real contrast next with Saigon Blue Rain from France, who deliver shimmering, modern, synth-driven indie joy! I’m imagining Depeche Mode meets Cranes and Head On The Door era Cure on a sunny day. They’re mobile, energetic and play songs that feel like bite size snacks of sugar and spice, often over too quickly! But don’t doubt that this was anything other than a seriously impressive performance.
Then, a welcome return for Terminal Gods, the elusive Londoners who play slick, supercharged goth-rock tunes that electrify a dance floor. An outfit of battle-hardened professional musicians, they effortlessly splice classic eighties rhythms with frenetic guitar work, all fronted by an Eldritchian clone of awkward, doom-laden style. Every track straddles the knife-edge between ironic bombast and irritating pomposity – but they really do kick. The drum machine stutters occasionally, giving them chance to recycle Von’s catchphrases, with laconic lead singer Rob muttering “talk amongst yourselves!”. They even introduce an eyebrow-raising saxophone performance, that begins uneasily until they settle into their trademark sleazy electro-laced rock and roll. Superb!
Ah, but… how do you review an eternal band playing to a packed room of hardened fans? Justin Sullivan remains unchanged after decades and decades of producing that distinctive New Model Army sound. The band are finely honed professionals dispensing classics effortlessly. “This is the right place for this” Justin quips before unleashing Island, a song lashed with wind and rain – just like Whitby!
The set continues to deliver beloved classics mixed expertly with newer tracks the faithful have already memorized, but shows in Whitby always feel like a personal performance from this band to their closest fans, and a baptism of fire for the uninitiated!
“It’s not where you run, it’s who you run with” they cry, over a thumping tribal beat that’s been the heartbeat of this Family for thirty years. Timeless, untouched by decay and always relevant, NMA remain the perpetual angry rebels, fighting the same Tory regime they started a war with in the Eighties. The room is packed to the gills with delighted, die-hard devotees who’ve had the show of the weekend – and a stellar introduction to anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of the Army before…
Come Sunday, and despite a shocking voice due to a weekend of excess and nonsense, I was proud to chair not one but two Q&A sessions back to back! The first was with historian, lecturer and author Dacre Stoker, who is also the Great-Grand Nephew of the famed Bram, author of Dracula and holidaymaker to Whitby itself.
Dacre is a passionate and charismatic speaker on his famous literary relative, and he theorizes extensively on his researches into Bram’s early life, his experiences and what may have motivated him to write an incomparable giant of gothic literature. After a whistle-stop tour of his latest researches into the “Secrets of Dracula”, he chatted with myself and the audience about the work that has gone into his latest novel, Dracul, written with acclaimed horror author J.D. Barker. We filled every minute of the time available to us, and it still felt like it wasn’t enough!
There was the briefest of pit-stops for refreshments, before we returned to the Pavilion Theatre for a Q&A session with not one, two, or even three but four veterans of Hammer Horror! I was delighted, charmed and utterly overwhelmed by the feisty foursome of Martine Beswick, Caroline Munro, Pauline Peart and Valerie Leon. After watching montages of their screen appearences from Hammer, as well as other franchises like Carry On… and James Bond, I put questions to each actor before throwing it out to the crowded audience.
We skated very close to what is acceptable conversation for a Sunday afternoon with a mixed audience, and there were far more laughs than screams for a horror discussion! I hope everyone came away informed and entertained from our conversation.
(Left to Right) Martine Beswick, Caroline Munro, Pauline Peart and Valerie Leon, with chair Tim Sinister
That was the end of the ‘official’ events for Tomorrow’s Ghosts Festival (TGF) April 2019, although an array of other promoters had timetabled themselves with Absinthe Promotions Events. Notably, Whitby Goth Weekend (WGW) – former denizens of the Pavilion – had held their event a couple of weeks previously. The effect on the town was notable, with it being nowhere near as claustrophobic as previous weekends. I was able to actually get served and find a seat in the pubs, get around the markets smoothly, and make it through town without being hip-deep in crowds.
The festival itself confirmed on social media a sell-out of tickets – understandable with the talented line-up – so it felt like the perfect balance between the gigs and the town. That this is a reflection of the audiences who attended WGW previously, versus those who turn up for the TGF line-up, is a possibility I’ve considered. It’s undeniable that a larger crowd attends the traditional dates less for the events and more for the spectacle, a phenomena I’ve discussed time and again, before the split even occurred. It will be interesting to see if the Winter season is equally split when WGW holds their event 25th – 27th October, whilst Tomorrow’s Ghosts has chosen 1st – 3rd November, and what impact that has on gigs, markets and the local economy.
It is also worth considering the increasingly bizarre claims being lodged against Absinthe Promotions and Tomorrow’s Ghosts on social media. I’ll not be reproducing or mentioning the individuals and claims made, out of respect for a delicate situation and concern over legal impact, but in particular I’d like to assert I’ve seen no evidence of a ‘far-right’ link to any events in Whitby.
I’d be surprised if any of the performers who played at the Pavilion would ever consider an offer to appear at an event supported by political extremists like that – and I doubt any neo-nazi groups would really fancy bands like Pop Will Eat Itself or New Model Army!
Even by the standards of petty goth drama, the allegations and commentary swirling around the festivals of Whitby are grim, upsetting and dangerous. I’d urge all parties to step away from their keyboards and consider the possible outcomes from groundless accusations and abuse. This is an opportunity to bury enmities before further damage is done.