Black Rose Ball 2018: In Review

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.

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Bob’s World: the biggest goth band ever is The Cure

There’s been a wealth of anniversaries recently. Bauhaus’ debut single, the anthemic “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” was released on August 6th 1979, so expect next year to be a major celebration of this milestone.  Siouxsie and the Banshees released their debut single and dancefloor mainstay “Hong Kong Garden” on August 18th, 1978.

More modestly, the well-established goth-rock band The Cure released their third single “Lovesong” from their eighth studio album “Disintegration” on August 21st, 1989. Although not a debut like their goth rock contemporaries, it was a commercial smash, hitting No. 2 in US charts and remains their most successful US single ever. The album itself represents a sudden return to the goth sound after the pop indulgences of “Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me” and is widely rated as one of their finest albums.

This set me to thinking about The Cure’s position in that pantheon of major artists we revere in the goth scene, and how it’s possible we criminally underrate them. For example, Joy Division are hailed as influential founders, but after Ian Curtis lost his struggle with suicide, they became encased in the amber of nostalgia, never changing, never fading but never innovating. See also, Christian Death – which will forever be frozen in time as Rozz’s band regardless of activities after his death.

Pioneer and role model Siouxsie Sioux will always be a poster girl for our subculture, but her withdrawal in recent years has left the Banshees in splendid isolation.  Bauhaus’ eclectic musical career soared furiously, before coming to an abrupt halt with the band’s fracture five years later, leaving as their legacy a forty-year old song and some sweet style.
Early contemporaries like Adam Ant, Nick Cave, Ian Astbury and Jaz Coleman flirted with the style, then headed out to chart their own courses, never troubled by the jet-black albatross of the surprisingly endurable goth subculture.

The next wave of bands tapped into and refined that sound and style, and we were blessed with consummate professionals like The Sisters of Mercy, Fields of the Nephilim and Alien Sex Fiend. Yet they laboured in the shade of their first-generation progenitors, or suffered their own implosions that would derail their careers and prevent them from ever having the same impact. Much to the consternation of YouTubers, new musicians and those not obsessed with gatekeeping, goth remains – and probably always will be – inextricably tied to the giants of the first wave.

Yet, people were staggered when Steve Lamacq’s amusing feature the “Goth World Cup” (no relation to our ‘national’ team Real Gothic FC) crowned its overall winner as “Hanging Garden” by – The Cure. They’d seen off all their contemporaries, defeating in direct contest Siouxsie, Bauhaus and The Cult, but it still felt like a surprise when “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” crashed out in the semi-finals. That for me was the moment when I realized what was popularly thought about goth music might not really be the case…

It’s only been reinforced this year. Robert Smith curated the Meltdown festival in June, a ten-day extravaganza featuring a stellar array of artists that ran the gamut from just breaking to impressively well-established, with the event crowned by The Cure themselves. Validating new artists and bringing them to the attention of old goths is a policy that deserves its own article, by the way. We cannot live on preserved memories forever…

Not long after, their 40th Anniversary performance in Hyde Park in the summer was a sell-out 65,000 attendee performance to rave reviews. Accolade after accolade has been laid at The Cure’s feet, and belatedly I – and others – woke up to the fact that in Robert Smith we might have the world’s premier goth musician; standard reluctance to use that term notwithstanding!

I just find it so easy to imagine a pouting, haughty Pete Murphy, an elegant and aloof Siouxsie Sioux, or Andrew Eldritch’s drowned Ramone style whenever I imagine a goth-rock musician. Smith’s trademark messy hair and smeared lipstick visage lurks over their shoulders, a familiar and unremarkable presence.

Perhaps it’s Bob’s trademark modesty and humility, whilst his contemporaries are infamous for their bizarre personalities. Perhaps the failing is all mine, never a dedicated fan of The Cure – it took until 2004’s self-titled album for it to really click with me. If so, I beg forgiveness from the gatekeepers for my ignorance, and urge you all to accept Robert Smith and The Cure as the true custodians of goth, from its very genesis to 2019’s album… whatever it may be, and regardless of whether Bob wants to be associated with our scene. Rejection of goth is peak goth, after all!

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August Activities – Hot Electronic Balls


A blind cat sees no new Sisters album

August remains ridiculously busy! I’m just back from a week’s holiday in Malta, where even the locals were commenting on how hot it was. It got to about 34°C, whereas I’m very accustomed to a climate in the mid-teens.
So that was a challenge, even if it was awash in glorious experiences like the 500,000 year old cave system Ghar Dalam, literally translated as “Cave of Darkness” – or the 5,000 year old Tarxian Temples – or diving in the warm Mediterranean. Throughout it all we enjoyed the warmth and hospitality of the Maltese. A delightful place that requires a return visit for all the places we missed.
I even maintained my goth cred as best I could and found some very friendly statues to pose with.

No rest for the wicked (and I am quite awful) because from Thursday sees the launch of the 20th anniversary of Infest – the premier UK festival for EBM, Industrial, Synthpop, Darkwave, Noise and anything else guaranteed to see you shake your glowsticks. For all I’m a crusty old trad, I have a streak of electronica running through my wizened soul, and you can read my reviews of Infest 2017 over here.

Infest 2018
This time it’s four nights crammed with a vast array of bands, so expect my reviews being trimmed down to the bare minimum. I’ll be trying to see as many artists as possible, plus dipping my toe into fringe activities like Laserquest, Bowling and Yoga! Plus the usual drinking, socializing, carousing and supplying a steady stream of memes to your good selves – all courtesy of the kind management of Infest.
If you see The Blogging Goth about, why not stop for a selfie?

Black Rose Ball 2018The very next weekend, I’ll be heading back to Yorkshire. I’m delighted to accept an invitation to attend from the organizers of the Black Rose Ball, a combined concert, market and elaborate masked ball in the gorgeous old city of York itself – and a key event supporting the worthy Sophie Lancaster Foundation charity.

I attended a few years back and found it a charming and individual event awash with dedicated guests who’d worked hard to look as fabulous as possible, and I’m very excited to be returning in order to produce a full review for my readers. In particular I’m looking forward to Friday night’s gig – I relish any opportunity to catch new bands in the goth/alternative scene, vivid evidence of the persistence of this weird subculture of ours!

I understand some tickets are still available so please look into joining us at this wonderfully romantic event.

The Memeing GothThroughout this activity I also have to find to train for the Great North Run, which I’ll be taking part in on September 9th, raising money for the very deserving Newcastle Dog and Cat Shelter.

I have two rescue cats who are crucially important to me, and it’s a pleasure to support people who work hard with the most needy animals. It helps motivate me when I’m twelve kilometres into another muscle-shredding practice run!

Please give whatever you can on my JustGiving page, and I promise to keep it updated with the exploits of the world’s worst healthgoth!

That’s just the next month neatly covered. More events are bearing down on us as we finally drag our charred corpses into the welcome embrace of Autumn. Goth City Festival 2018, and the first ever Tomorrow’s Ghosts festival in Whitby are both looming on the horizon, and you’ll see me involved with both of them in one manner or another.
I feel like we’re experiencing a glorious (black) golden age of goth, especially in the North, with events everywhere for an enthusiastic crowd. Remember to get out there and check it out.

As always, thanks to my regular readers and welcome to the newcomers! Until next time…

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“The Night Brother” by Rosie Garland – guest review

Rosie Garland’s latest novel, The Night Brother, is out now in paperback. Guest reviewer Dr Claire Nally (Northumbria University) looks at why the book is a unique journey into late-Victorian and Edwardian Manchester…

Rosie Garland might be best known to goths as singer with The March Violets, or perhaps because of her cabaret and spoken word alter-ego, Rosie Lugosi, Lesbian Vampire Queen. However, Garland is also an accomplished prose writer, with her first novel, The Palace of Curiosities (2013) followed by Vixen (2014). Both of these historical novels play with magic realism, gender non-conformity and sexual difference, so in this respect, Garland’s latest novel, The Night Brother (2017) follows in a similar pattern.

Previous reviews of Garland’s work have established a flattering comparison with Angela Carter, and it is easy to see why, given that Garland’s historical fiction also reflects upon subjects like gender, sexuality, and otherness. However, such a comparison also deflects from the uniqueness of the author’s voice. In The Night Brother, which is a split narrative from the perspective of two characters – Gnome and Edie – the subtle nuances of language are obvious. We meet Gnome as an adolescent boy, and his narrative voice is swaggering, informal, and full of mild billingsgate, braggadocio and slang. He is not, however, entirely without sympathy. Confined to a night-time world of street pedlars, city markets, fairs, and the friendship of prostitutes, his world-view is clearly one of survival.

Edie is an entirely different specimen, and the prose carefully mirrors her character. Edie’s language is more tentative, and formal in register, lyrical and literary in style. This is not to say she is a pushover: she takes great delight in telling a drunk in her mother’s pub to ‘Get your filthy paws off me’ when his hands wander up her skirt, telling him that she will grab his ‘wizened meat and two veg and saw off the whole damned lot.’ In such instances, we also have a tantalising glimpse into the crux of the story, that Edie and Gnome have more in common than familial bonds.

Rosie Garland, Manchester Histories Festival at Manchester Art Gallery, photo by Paul Sherlock

Edie is drawn into the counterculture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century through her friendship with Guy Heywood, who introduces her to the underground Manchester queer scene, complete with police raids, intolerance and (by necessity) dual identities ­– the novel opens in 1894, but a year before Oscar Wilde’s high-profile arrest for gross indecency. These queer narratives are often recovered by Neo-Victorian writers (think Sarah Waters as an obvious example), but Garland is also doing something subtly different.

Edie’s participation in the suffrage movement, through her friend Abigail Hargreaves, takes her to the heart of civil unrest in the period: she attends a speech by Mary Gawthorpe (suffragette, trade unionist and editor) in Albert Square only to become embroiled in scenes of police brutality and riot. These sections of the novel are precisely detailed, and obviously penned by a long-time resident of the city. The painstaking geography of the novel is easily verifiable in all its multitudinous character: the bustle of Deansgate, the Oxford Road corridor and the ‘fortunate young ladies attending Owen’s College’, Manchester Museum, and thence to the leafy quiet of the suburbs. However, at the heart of the narrative is also a queer love story – Edie’s growing relationship with Abigail is subtly and sympathetically handled, without any of the sensationalism we may associate with aspects of Neo-Victorian fiction.

The ‘secret’ at the heart of the story places the book in the magic realist tradition – insofar as it uses an essentially realist narrative arc (with hints of the coming-of-age bildungsroman tradition) but also participates in fantastical elements which we are invited to accept as an everyday part of the world. This seems to be a political gesture as well as an aesthetic decision: we should accept Edie and Gnome’s complex identities as part of human diversity, as much as it is important to do the same for sexual difference.

Garland’s work is literary and erudite, but despite its intellectualism, it is also a gripping yarn, a political polemic about rights and freedoms for men, women and those in-between, and a compelling but affectionate historical portrayal of Mancunian life.

The Night Brother by Rosie Garland is out now in paperback from The Borough Press (HarperCollins), £8.99:

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Fields of the Nephilim, Paradise Lost to headline new Whitby event

Goth rock legends Fields of the Nephilim and gothic metal pioneers Paradise Lost will headline a brand new event called Tomorrow’s Ghosts, held during the long-running Whitby alternative festival in October.

Following a breakdown in communications between Sheffield International Venues (SIV) division ‘SIVLive’, who operate the Whitby Pavilion, and Top Mum Promotions who have run Whitby Goth Weekend since 1994, the venue has sought a new promoter to run an event during the immensely popular goth festival season – and a new partnership has been struck with Absinthe Promotions.

SIVLive, who operate the venue on behalf of Scarborough Borough Council as part of the not-for-profit Sheffield City Trust (SCT), have a goal of improving the health and wellbeing of its local communities by providing facilities for entertainment, sport and leisure. Their head, Dom Stokes, said in a statement

“It has been well documented that it has been my priority to quickly find a suitable promoter to ensure that the Pavilion continues to host an event during this October’s Goth Festival …

Absinthe know Whitby and they know the community. I first met the guys at Absinthe Promotions after the first public consultation meeting …
When they began talking about how they go about their business, I was immediately drawn to their passion and their drive. More importantly, their commitment to putting on a major music event to appeal and deliver to a real cross section of the Goth and non Goth community during this cultural phenomenon, really shone through.”

Absinthe Promotions have previously run events in Whitby as part of the broad array of events on offer to the thousands of goths and alternative music fans who descend on Whitby twice yearly to celebrate the darker side of music and culture.
There will also be an array of traders in the Pavilion during the weekend of 26th – 28th October, as part of the Dark Days Alternative Market.

I asked Kirstin Lavender, who heads up Absinthe Promotions, how she feels stepping into the challenging position of succeeding Whitby Goth Weekend at the Pavilion. She is confident and hopeful for the future, saying

“I think putting on great bands, established, as well as new acts will keep people interested and bring more people back to Whitby on this weekend. We also want to introduce more diversity over time as seen in the European festivals such as Leipzig and M’era Luna.”

The lineup certainly ensures an impressive variety of household goth names, with stellar ensemble The Eden House and tested veterans The Society, not to mention breaking new talent from hungry new band Sometime the Wolf and eternal goth rockers Salvation. Tickets will be £35 a day or £58 for a weekend – plus booking fees – with weekend tickets available from Friday 13th July (naturally) and day tickets from Wednesday 1st August, all through SIV and the Pavilion.

At the same time, Whitby Goth Weekend has taken the unprecedented step of announcing the next three dates – up to October 2019 – in advance on social media.

No word has yet been released regarding line-up, venues, or prices, and queries on these to Top Mum Promotions have not been answered. The organizers did take exception to the reporting in my previous article, and wished to clarify that their issues with SIVLive leading to the separation involved perceived concerns over the safety of attendees, and the alleged inability of the venue operators to confirm a schedule of dates with Top Mum Promotions. In a statement released on their official Facebook on 15th June, they said

“The Goth weekend is not defined by any one person, venue or activity. Its main objective for the last 24 years has been to provide a place for the lost and lonely to find friendship, camaraderie and a place to ‘be’. It would be spiteful and egocentric to state events as cancelled on the basis of one venue.”

So, 2018 will end as the final year when the various promoters coincide. From 2019, Top Mum’s Whitby Goth Weekend will divert from the dates agreed between SIV and Tomorrow’s Ghosts. Responding to queries, Dom Stokes of SIV candidly stated that

I am aware that WGW have announced some dates that are slightly different for the April 2019 and October 2019 events which is a shame as they were aware of the dates that the Pavilion had however I am confident that the events at the Pavilion will be a success.

The ease with which the dates have been agreed between the venue and the new promoter seems to call into question the argument that SIV were not willing to agree them with Top Mum Promotions, but matters here are uncertain.
It’s also unclear how other promoters in town, who arranged events previously to coincide with WGW will proceed – with events at the Rifle Club, RAW Nightclub and the Metropole Hotel both independent of either Absinthe Promotions or Top Mum Promotions. I suspect they will hang back, identify the most successful promoter, and coordinate with their calendar.

As lines have now been drawn, it will fall to the average punter to decide which lineup attracts them in October, and which weekend they’ll visit Whitby in 2019 – with the numbers alone being a measure of success.

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