As always, many thanks to WGW management for providing me a pass into Friday and Saturday night’s events comprising the heart of the Whitby Goth Weekend festival. Other than that, I receive no preferential treatment so all reviews are untarnished except for any booze I spilled on them.
First off was the surprising relocation, the first in WGW’s history, to the Theatre room of the Pavilion Spa. With the seating removed, using the existing stage and taking advantage of the improved acoustics, in a lot of ways it’s a major improvement on the cavernous Main Hall. Still it’s a much lower capacity, and there’s only the small Theatre bar or all the way back to the Lobby for the main bar. Perhaps this will see a reduction in alcohol consumption and a more coherent review?* Only time will tell.
* – No it will not.
Friday 27th April
Rayguns Look Real Enough – The opening act on the first night of WGW, and the band I had the most… reservations about. Pop-culture covers with a tiger onesie and ‘banter’?
It was, of course, exactly as expected. A surreal intro of crude comments about tiger-mating, before launching into a mashup of pop songs from Michael Jackson to Pharrell Williams.
Their humour aims at making you both cringe and chuckle, and the audience was hissing and hooting equally at their blue gags. Plenty of energy, but they launched a very bizarre act into a very small crowd. Acoustics are good though.
Dok Haze’s “Circus of Horrors” Part One – To make up for there only being three performers on Friday, the crew from the Circus of Horrors were putting on two acts. Their MC was a fantastically made-up Count Orlok, who immediately began quipping about blowjobs, so the comedy level was at least consistent. I notice that the audience was fairly young, ironic considering this would be one of the most ‘adult’ night of performances I’ve seen yet. Anyway, the show begins with a talented contortionist, and two acrobatic blood-stained girls on a suspended hoist. Meanwhile, the light and sound crew are working overdrive to provide the right atmosphere, and it’s a stellar performance all taken together. That is, if you like your horror served shlock, and your sex done PG all overlaid with a faux-serious attitude.
The audience is engaged, but when the music stops, nobody claps – we’re off the standard festival map now, and nobody is sure when the ‘act’ has in fact ended! Of course, they draw on the old entertainment staples of ‘audience participation’ after which I have just written “Oh Christ”.
Desmond O’Connor – Another act I approach with trepidation – ukuleles have not always successfully migrated into the goth/alternative music scene. Nevertheless, Des is a veteran of the Edinburgh fringe and a gorgeously attired vaudeville performer. He at least tilts at his audience with a delightfully camp cover of ‘Tainted Love’ but he’s trailing in the dust of any number of familiar artists who’ve covered it before.
He exudes a wealth of natural charisma and is a superb ringmaster of any audience, including a half-convinced one. When he asks for the house lights to go up, he warns it may scare “the children of the night!” Still, his songs run into stomach-turning queasy comedy territory, ending on songs about accidentally sleeping with grandmothers and necrophilia (not thankfully connected). The applause is appreciative so he’s scored points with some of the crowd.
Dok Haze’s “Circus of Horrors” Part Two – Back with a new procession of performers, the Dok himself curates more gut-churning demonstrations of physical freakiness, as a goggled punk and a whipcracking Madame drill their own noses, whilst PVC-clad Nurses strut the stage. They bring on a dwarf professor, conscript more tolerant souls from the audience, and start playing with the entertainment of static electricity. Sadly, some of it seems to creep into the Dok’s headset mic – well, it wouldn’t be WGW without a few technical hitches!
We reach the point where the dwarf is a conduit for power into fluorescent light tubes, but when they start seeing if they can plug lights into his arse, I realize it’s just not ending at all how I’d like my Whitby Goth Weekends to go. It’s been a surreal night of circus and cabaret but for this jaded old curmudgeon of a trad-goth, I’d rather wait for the bands.
Saturday 28th April
1919 – I’m heading down the corridor from the main bar when I hear a very familiar drum-beat. 1919 kick off with an aggressive version of “Cry Wolf”, one of their most enduring hits. Back from a long and tragic past, 1919 have a new album out and they’re reminding us of where they’ve come from, before showing us exactly where they’re going. Looking about, I note the room is twice as a full as it was for last night’s opener. Lead singer Rio is a consummate performer, casually chatting to the band and even promoting the footie before kicking off another track filled with fast tribal drumming and jangling guitar lines. They storm it with “Retrograde”, a fantastic anthem that plants the flag for bands squarely on the map.
Sigue Sigue Sputnik Electronica – Back again after performing at the 2015 and 2016 events, Martin Degville (from the original lineup) and SSSE are a predictable panoply of glitter and horny extravagance. He’s still a stand-out vocalist, crooning and crowing equally ably. We get classic anthems like Satellite of Love, but then a sad and surreal moment when Degville reveals a recent struggle with cancer and sends round a collection bucket. I don’t begrudge donating but it bloody derails the momentum of a gig! Then, he decides to present his thigh-high gold glitter boots to some lucky punter, and congratulations go to ‘Waspy’ for winning and for taking it seriously when she parades across the stage in just one boot! SSSE deliver a few more tracks impeccably, and end on Love Missile – naturally. If it wasn’t for the bizarre segues, it was a very slick – if familiar – set.
The Last Cry – Their intro sums up this acclaimed band well. They deliver a powerful, dramatic and glorious instrumental that concludes with lead singer Andrew Birch shambling on stage with a mug clutched in one hand and a quiet “Ello” to the crowd. Immensely capable and amusingly intimate, The Last Cry are rock-solid professionals with a popular line in emotional trauma.
I watch in mingled awe and concern as Birch stumbles across the stage, a puppet with his strings cut. He cradles the audience in his hands, and I can appreciate that even if I prefer my frontmen emotionally-detached obsidian-coated machines. The track list is spot-on, surging from “Walking To The Edge” and straight into “Follow”, both firm fan favourites that see proper audience participation as the lyrics boom to the rafters.
Voltaire – The master of heading up a successful Whitby line-up, the American dark solo cabaret artist is back again after 2017’s April festival. He has crafted a perfect set for the audience widely spread between diehard veteran fans and intrigued newcomers, kicking off with a fun retrospective of tracks from earlier albums. He links each one with that unbelievable charisma and charm in that rich, honeyed voice, even when he’s ranting about the British predilection for chip butties! Alongside painful tracks about youthful alienation – “Raised By Bats” – that form an immediate rapport with this crowd of freaks and weirdos, is a bizarre shouting match about birthdays.
Then, he elects for a cover of Cohen’s (not Buckley’s) “Hallelujah” that is actually delivered pretty damn well, and a novel choice for a set that was pretty familiar. It all builds up to “When You’re Evil”, and unlike being asked to violate a dwarf with a light-fitting, Voltaire invites a large crowd up to bellow out this most classic of his anthems.
I’m with a newcomer who has never seen Voltaire before, and she is knocked back by his supernatural stage presence and first-class performance. It’s always a successful show, even if you’ve seen it before.
An odd Whitby Goth Weekend there, with a bizarre raft of novelties; the new room, the Friday night line-up of comedy and cabaret, sandwiched right next to the tried-and-tested, with just one band on the entire line-up that hasn’t played in the last three years of WGW.
The next weekend dates have been announced by WGW management, the 26th – 28th October. No line-up is yet existent it seems, and considering April’s was announced barely a month prior we could be in the dark for a long while yet. The internet is just as vociferous as usual with everyone throwing their opinions and rumours about but no facts will be known for certain until they’re confirmed. Watch this space…
In lighter news, the UK’s only goth football team Real Gothic FC also turned in a novelty when they won the charity match against locals Stokoemotive FC! You can watch the thrilling second-half with some dreadful commentary courtesy of myself on the livestream and Al Fiendish on the PA.
Finally, every year I wake up on the Saturday and Sunday to find out the big newspapers have bought a tranche of photos from the ‘togs who prowl Church Street and capture all the best ‘costumes’.
It’s not exactly an accurate representation of Whitby Goth Weekend so below is a brief gallery for you to show to people when they ask you what you ‘dress up as’, when you go to Whitby. Many thanks to event photographers Paul Baxter and Bob Slassor plus my friends whose galleries I plundered!
Until next time…