Shamefully, SPHERE are Whitby Goth Weekend virgins and as a consequence we really didn’t know what to expect and were also admittedly a little nervous (aww) before heading up the mountains and into the small market town. Fortunately upon our arrival on the Friday (October 30) just prior to the bands we were made to feel most welcome by what seemed like an army of Goths, rockabilly..ers and steampunks. It was really quite lovely.
The first thing that really struck us about the whole event was the great sense of atmosphere and camaraderie that seemingly floats in the air around all of the traders, visitors and musicians that inhabit the various sites to make WGW so special. It’s interesting to first visit the massive Spa venue which has been at the centre of the weekend since its creation around 16-years-ago and see Goth promoters and shop owners from all over the North of England and worldwide coming together for such a prestigious event. Of course, it wouldn’t be the same without legions of customers in various elaborate clothes taking influence from the aforementioned scenes along with the odd stunning transgender punter and the occasional proud dominatrix fully clad in PVC.
Other than that, there was so much going on with new comedy events, fundraisers (attendees raised £1200 over the weekend for the Sophie Lancaster Foundation), meet-ups and historic walks spaced out over the town throughout. We were particularly taken with The Resolution Hotel during our stay despite it not being officially part of WGW. “The Rez” is exactly what it sounds like of course, but in this context the old guest house is given new life and taken over for a few days by Goffs of all shapes and sizes for some awesome live music from the likes of The Ladder, Cybercide, Uninvited Guest and Psydoll, and also some proper decent club events powered by York’s Darklands crew and Whitby’s own specialist night Bunker13…sound good? It bloody well is. If you are a Goth, rivethead or any of the above you really can’t afford to miss this event.
On the whole, it seems like, no matter what you are into you will always be made to feel instantly welcome and part of something truly special. To summarise, if you are the kind of person that thinks you are totally original and that you are and will forever be, “The only Goff in the village” then you will certainly be challenged by the people that surround you and a little threatened by the general decadence of it all. However, if like most of us you are open to new things and excited by the prospect of meeting new and like-minded people then you need look no further. This really is a place to join together and be proud of who you are.
Amidst the mass of dark culture there were some notable bands on, so we shall finish with our lengthy (and ever-so-slightly cheesy) introduction and get straight to the meaty stuff. On Friday we had the pleasure of watching Grooving In Green () for the second time. The group coped with the pressure of the big stage well and pulled out a fantastic rendition of ‘Scene Whore’ and ‘Cats Or Devil’s Eyes’ with vocalist Tron sharing welcome banter with the enthusiastic crowd in-between times. It’s a top notch performance then from a band that seems to be getting better and better as a live unit.
Next up we have the frankly fabulous rockabilly outfit that is Zombina And The Skeletones () – these Whitby faves are undoubtedly our band of the weekend and the Liverpool natives really rock the house with their infectious mix of 60s influenced punk. On ‘Nobody Likes You (When You’re Dead)’ the group’s trademark bubblegum-pop-metal hybrid swings and slices at the hardcore Goth audience until they are bouncing around frantically and, for probably the first time today grinning from ear to ear…and skanking. Our standout track is the chaotic ‘Leave My Brain Alone’ which is an adorable slice of pop-punk created by grand dual vocals and a serious rock attitude – crunchy guitars, a playful sax and beastly drums et al. These guys should be one of your favourite bands…whatever you are into…seriously.
The final act of our first evening in Whitby is The Eden House (. Now, these guys are pretty much Goth leg-ends and we are pleased to say that they lived up to the hype with their traditional dark-rock approach. ‘Iron In The Soul’ is a bleak and suitably satisfying standout as part of this deep and terrifyingly epic set. It’s ethereal, moody and it is clear the band draws from older influences (as well as individual members’ previous experiences as part of established bands Faith And The Muse and Fields Of The Nephelim) but there’s also a distinctly current feel to the music within the steady rock beats and stunning vocal performance. While the live show is nowhere near as “energetic” as the previous band’s it really doesn’t need to be. The Eden House provide a masterclass in how to produce emotive goth-rock sounds in 2009. A fitting end to a great first day in Whitby then despite the fact that we couldn’t seem to get the image of Legion vocalist Maisey atop a human tower half-naked, dancing with his hands from our brains throughout the entire drive home…yes, we quite obviously have problems.
The next day we wondered in to The Spa to check out the second lot of acts. First up is the ever-strong Rhombus (). These Manchester-based dark lords fire-off with some fine, melodic dark-rock tunes including ‘Anywhere’ and the entertaining anthem that is, ‘You Only Want Me When You’re Drunk’ that appeal to the ever increasing audience and inspire Maisey to take his shirt off again. That aside, Rhombus definitely solidified their reputation as one of the standout acts (and certainly one of the tightest), on the Northern UK Goth scene.
Follow-up act Adoration () speed things up a little with their heavier sound which clashes neatly against epic soundscapes and a wash of emotive synth elements. There’s a touch of The Cure in this stuff and more than a little hint of Sisters Of Mercy but there’s enough originality inside the searing guitars and hypnotic vocal qualities of ‘The Same As It Ever Was’ to make the band an essential listen for any trad or nu-Goth who hasn’t heard of them yet.
Now, we didn’t really know what to expect from Faith And The Muse (), despite them being one of the dark music scene’s greatest and most celebrated bands for many years, but they really did rock our stripey socks right off once they hit the stage. We’ve seen a lot of bands in our time and the genres span from pop to metal via folk but LA natives FATM incorporate bits of every style that you adore. Tribal drumming infects our favourite track ‘Mesmerism’ while Monica Richards’ evocative vocals haunt and inspire as part of ‘In Dreams Of Mine’ – this is powerful stuff that will appeal to fans of everything from Portishead to Florence And The Machine. It’s dark and delicious pop music that’s good for the soul – how’dya like that? FATM were indeed the biggest surprise of our weekend and they certainly have one of the strongest live shows we have ever seen. Great stuff to finish a weekend of top live performances off.
Before we undertook the lovely reviews you’ve just read, we decided to take some time out to chat to the people who make WGW so special every year. Funnily enough the first person we caught up with was a lad named Richard from Chicago, US and he was keen to give us his two cents.
“Whitby’s cool for me because I can see some awesome bands that have inspired me, pick up some decent clothes and mingle with some British Goths.” He added, “There’s really nothing that creates such a community like this in the States and I hope to come back here really soon as I now know people that come every year.”
This positive mood is echoed within the words of Annabel from Reading who said, “Whitby [Goth Festival] has such a strong following and it’s got a great atmosphere that’s always so friendly, I just hope it continues to grow and keeps getting the support it deserves.” Discussing her hopes for next year’s event Annabel concludes, “I’d like to see more bands and more events that cater to the variety of different genres and people that come here.”
Jo Hampshire, who has run TopMum promotions and been a part of the event since its creation in ‘94 explained that there is constantly work being done to improve the show. “There are lots of fringe events now that are not an official part of the Whitby Gothic Weekend, like the live events at The Resolution and also The Elsinore and The Metropole, but I think the future will mean that we all have to club together in order to expand.”
Jo maintains that ever since she began promoting Goth as a style has become a huge melting pot and she is proud to have seen it grow and develop over time. “Thanks to a number of different artists and bands Goth has become a huge melting pot and so we are now much more open and excepting of other genres and that wasn’t always the case when we started. Now, we get full-on steampunks, rockabilly fans, horrorpunks, metallers and even the general public (Goth-spotters) coming in, and that’s they way we want it.
“I think the reason it has become so diverse is because when you are a Goth there is this great desire to be different, but when people come here, everybody looks the same and so people are still coming up with all of these various sub-genres in an effort to be unique. The whole scene really has come full circle and at the moment there’s a real emphasis on rockabilly and music with a 60s twist, and also steampunk.”
While WGW has always been successful and it attracts thousands of people each year over the Halloween period, Jo explained that it has not always been easy for her and the volunteers that act as her support when putting everything together. “There was a big shift recently when I split with my husband after we’d been organising the event together for so many years and he went on to take over some of the other venues.” She added, “The council don’t really support the official event enough either, despite the fact that we bring in around £1,500 and about 5,000 people each year over our two events (in April and October) to the town.”
The positive reaction the event receives every year from the fans overshadows any of the few negatives and this is certainly a reflection on the hard work that Jo (and her eager crew) put in each year to bring the best UK bands and worldwide talent (previous acts to have played include: VNV Nation, Mesh, The Screaming Banshee Aircrew, Abney Park and The Birthday Massacre), to the dedicated customers.
“I am still amazed so many people make the journey to Whitby, I mean there’s only one train a day in and out during winter and it’s way up in the mountains so that means a scary drive but we get people coming from everywhere, and it has been that way since the very beginning.” Jo concluded discussing plans for next year’s events. “For the first time this year we have had the alternative cabaret and comedy events and I am hoping that there will be more burlesque stuff in the future. I’d also like to try and bring fetish in as well, but I’m not sure how that will go down with the public.
“To the people that came this year I say, thank you so much for coming and keeping the scene alive. I am really grateful and it just goes to show that there’s nowhere else that can beat something like this.”
For more information visit the official website.