Gothic and proud

IT’S easy to take the piss out of Goths – well, it was until the fashionistas went all Gothic-luxe on us. I’m sure it must have absolutely horrified original Goths, bless ’em. They must be an awful lot happier (it’s all relative) now that whole look is so last season.

I’ve never really had a problem with Goths. None of it really interested me. I never saw the Sisters of Mercy live, or bought any of their records – but I always used to dance to Alice and Temple Of Love when they came on at ‘alternative discos’. They’re great records. So sue me. Okay, so there may have been the odd Bauhaus record in my collection too. And maybe the Danse Society as well.

goth3Though I thought the whole look and philosophy was indicative of an innate narcissism and rather prissy conservatism when it appeared in the early Eighties, there was a lot of it about. It was the early Eighties. When you actually got talking to them, Goths were often gentle, kindly and timid souls who read books, wrote letters and wore eye-liner. So what if they danced like girls? They often were girls.

There was still a lot of it about when I moved over to Leeds a few years later and Leeds 6 seemed to be full of wan little kohl-eyed romantics in black lace with big, big hair. Being in such close proximity all the time – well, they started to get on my nerves a bit. I was quite angry, quite a lot of the time.  I blame Thatcher. And the drugs.

I was writing for a local arts, culture and politics mag called Grunt at the time, so when a Sisters ‘convention’ was advertised at the Astoria towards the end of 1988, me and Dallas got up ridiculously early one Sunday morning and went over, fully intending to take the piss.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

* * *

IT’S about 10am on Sunday morning and it’s spitting with rain. In fact it’s a miserable bastard of a Sunday morning and Dallas and me are walking from his house in Woodhouse to the Astoria on Roundhay Road. It’s a long way and not a good start to the day.

We’re going to the last of three Sisters of Mercy conventions, two quid in, a big screen video, memorabilia, rarities, lookalike competitions and the promise of what is described, mysteriously, as “personal appearances by people connected to the band”.

The person who drove the Sistermobile? The band chiropodist? Or would the Big E himself turn up?

We finally arrive at the Astoria. Is it through here? We look into the big room and see women walking around in wedding dresses. A Patricia Morrison lookalike competition? Perhaps not.

We go around the corner and this looks a little more like it. A smoke machine blows out a miserably thin wisp of vapour, like it’s been at the Consulate rather than the Capstan Full Strength. Chickenshit disco lights blink on and off. Tacky.

We go through some double doors and we find ourselves confronted by a couple of hundred leather-jacketed punters milling around the bar and a number of stalls. A big screen blasts out a live video of Floorshow. We take a deep breath and dive into what someone will later call, with a healthy degree of irony, “the Gothic heart of the universe”.

At first it all seems like a glorified record fair. The usual slimeball stall holders sell the usual over-priced crap – rarities and bootlegs no real fan should be without. For instance, the original seven of Damage Done will set you back £65.

“Worth it though,” the amphibian behind the counter tells me.

Oh look. Barely able to conceal my excitement, I see a 12-inch US test pressing of This Corrosion.

“Sixty quid mate. It’s well rare.”

And people will buy it at that price?

“Yeah, it’s a good seller.”

So it’s not actually that rare then, is it?

We leave him to ponder the crushing, existential misery of life as a record dealer and go in search of idiotic fans to talk to.

Dallas spots Andrew Eldritch and Patricia Morrison! Shit!

Except, of course, it isn’t Andrew Eldritch and Patricia Morrison. But they look a heck of a lot like them. They’ll do.

Gary and Stephaney (“..N-E-Y, make sure you spell it right”) have travelled over from Hull. She’s 20 and training to be a hairdresser, he’s 23 and a “building preservation specialist .. a plasterer really,” he tells us, smiling.

Why are you here?

“Well, it’s the next best thing to going to a concert. They don’t do them anymore, and if they did it’d only be in big stadiums.”

It’s something we hear time and again through the day. They can’t see the Sisters live, so they come here instead. In poor old Gary and Stephaney’s case, it’s even worse, because they’ve never actually seen the band. Their disappointment is obvious.

I try to subtly steer the conversation around to the remarkable similarity between the pair of them and Andrew Eldritch and Patricia Morrison.

You look a lot like Andrew Eldritch and Patricia Morrison. Are you going to enter the lookalike contest?

Gary bursts out laughing.

“Dressing like this is .. pretentious anyway,” he explains. “Entering a lookalike contest would be just ridiculous.”

It’s difficult to take the piss when faced with such disarming and self-effacing honesty. These people aren’t the prancing posers we thought they would be. Dallas takes their picture and we go in search of wankers.

There seems to be a likely candidate sitting on the stairs. He wears mirrored sunglasses under a wide-brimmed black hat, around which he has tied a scarf with a rather fetching skull motif printed on it. He also sports a number of crucifixes of varying sizes and pointy boots with buckles on them.

Perfect.

Rod is a 28-year-old nurse. He and his friends Alison, John and Dave have all come over from Hull – which is obviously a city with a lot of Sisters of Mercy fans.

“I prefer the March Violets, actually,” announces John, who is roundly denounced by his friends for his candour. He is dragged off by a mob and lynched from the nearest lamp post.

“It’s better than working on a Sunday,” says newsagent Dave.

“We wanted to get some good bargains,” says Rod.

And did you find any?

“Yes,” he says proudly, showing us his prize. “The Armageddon Out-Takes. It’s a live album from Berlin on white vinyl. Cost me 65 quid.”

Bloody hell, is that how much everything costs here? Isn’t that a bit excessive? Y’know, for a record?

“It depends how far your devotion goes. It’s not excessive for me, but for the ordinary person in the street I suppose it would be.”

Devotion is the key word here. These people are relic hunters as much as they are music lovers.

Apart from having more money than sense, Rod and his friends are nice, pleasant people and we have a good laugh with them.

Balls. This isn’t going to plan at all.

The Merciful Release stall finally yields our first, and as it turns out, our last berk of the day – and he’s not even that bad, really.

Nick has worked for the Sisters label for two years and obviously loves every minute of it.

“See this phone here?” He points to a black, rather old fashioned telephone in a class cabinet. It has a card saying ‘On Loan from the band. Not for sale’ in front of it. “It’s from the Merciful Release office in London.”

Really? You’re not kidding, are you?

“When the office opened,” he tells us enthusiastically, “Andrew came in and said, ‘I want everything black’. That telephone was gloss red and I had to rub it down with wire wool before the paint would take and I could spray it. Took me ages.”

Amazing.

I begin to ask Nick why, if Eldritch wanted it black that much, he didn’t just buy a black phone in the first place but there doesn’t seem much point.

We pretend to be suitably impressed by the great man’s own manky leather jacket (“It’s a bit like the Turin Shroud, isn’t it?”) and the shiny bright platinum disc for First And Last And Always. It turns out they’re not for sale either.

So, I ask Nick, what does Eldritch think to all this stuff? All this memorabilia, these over-priced rarities and bootlegs?

“He was as enigmatic as ever,” he says, mysteriously.

Oh dear God.

“He told me, ‘I’m a hoarder, I collect things to do with the Sisters, but I can’t understand why other people want to do it’.”

Neither can I mate.

I tell Nick that I think I’ve just seen Doktor Avalanche, the Sisters’ drum machine, making a personal appearance, but it turned out to be a pile of bootleg videos. He looks at me like I’m stupid.

Encouraged by finding someone who could at last confirm some of our prejudices about Sisters of Mercy fans – that they have an unhealthy obsession with Andrew Eldritch for a start – we look for more dupes.

We spot a stereotypical Goth couple. Pointy boots, backcombed barnet, crucifixes, eyeliner and foundation slapped on with a trowel .. and that’s just the geezer.

Jackie and Carl have come up from Coventry. They tried to get to the London event but they got the date wrong and had to endure abuse, insults and intimidation on the dark streets of the capital instead.

What is it about the Sisters that inspires such devotion?

“They’re brilliant,” says Carl. “The first time I heard them I was hooked.”

“There’s nothing else like them,” adds Jackie.

Does it matter that they’re not really very fashionable these days?

“I don’t bother with fashion anymore,” says Carl with a straight face. It must have taken him at least a couple of hours to get ready this morning.

Aren’t you just another kind of fashion victim Carl?

“It’s an alternative, isn’t it?”

Would you call yourselves Goths?

“I would,” says Carl without any hesitation. “Goth and proud!”

Goth and proud. Brilliant.

I tell them what Eldritch himself thinks to all this stuff.

“He just does it because he enjoys it and we do it because we enjoy what he does,” says Jackie, and there’s no answer to that really.

Dallas takes some pictures of the couple and some of Carl’s excellent kick-ass pointy boots and we head for the bar.

We sit down and watch the hairstyles go by. My attention wanders to the video screen and there I see – foulest of sacrileges – Wayne Hussey and the Mission leaping around. No chairs are thrown at the screen, there is no bloodbath at the sight of someone I thought was regarded as the arch Goth-Traitor. No one seems that bothered.

The next video is the Sisters. And the next. I gradually begin to realise just how many Sisters of Mercy songs I actually like. This constant bombardment is getting to me.

I’m dragged from this rather disturbing train of thought by the sight and sound of a 10-legged backcombed whirlwind cutting a swathe through the Astoria. Five young women are laughing and shouting and larking around and generally spoiling the atmosphere of studied reverence and serious hero worship.

Vicky, Jill and Rachael (who will eventually go on to win the Patricia Morrison lookalike competition) come from Huddersfield and Helen and Kelly come from Halifax. They all attend sixth-form together.

“We all like the Sisters of Mercy,” Vicky tells us, clutching a bottle of Lowenbrau like her life depended on it. “And we’ve come to see the videos and everything. Andrew Eldritch has refused to tour so this is the closest we can get.”

These five young ladies are absolutely brilliant and utterly adorable. They snigger and yell and joke and squeal and shriek and make more noise than everyone else in the place put together.

What’s so brilliant about Andrew Eldritch?

“He’s gorgeous! He’s just really fit!”

What about Patricia Morrison?

“Yech! She’s a bitch!”

More gales of laughter.

They make me feel very old but I still wish they were my little sisters, each and every one of them.

We soon realise it’s going to be impossible to meet anyone who is as much fun as Vicky, Jill, Rachael, Helen and Kelly so we call it a day and do one.

I still don’t really understand why people seem to go absolutely ape-shit over the Sisters but good luck to them.

And hand me that hairspray.

[This feature first appeared in Grunt magazine in early 1989]

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31 Comments

Filed under expletive undeleted, features

31 responses to “Gothic and proud

  1. I found you at Alphainventions.com by bumping you out of the cycle – so I can tell you about some of the ways you can use the site to get better responses to your postings. I http://is.gd/fDE3

    It is a great site and in fact part of its strength is the fact that the more you bump others off, the worse off you are, in terms of getting your turn in the reading cycle.

    However, if you bump and comment – and then respond to the comment – that builds a back link between your sites and and strengthens both of you.

    More than that, once you are recognised by Alphainventions, they send you traffic because you update your site – not only because you keep resubmitting or you are an AIID subscriber. I have done a lot of statistical analysis on this and have the numbers to prove it.

    But there are some other factors that are more important – please go to our site and have a look through it to see what they are.

    For me, the great thing about Alphainventions.com is that it keeps sending traffic to my site and using the referral back links I can visit those people. That is real value for blogging and building traffic.

    Have a look at what we are doing with AI at http://fhzs It can be of great help to you too.

    Cheers
    Lesley

  2. undeleted

    Thank you kindly Lesley. I will investigate further.

  3. I suspect Lesley is probably a spam-bot. The best way to increase your traffic is by posting great stuff like this, I think. ;-)

  4. Hello from Dallas!
    Thanks for the shout out earlier.
    I think I bumped you too.
    Forgive me.
    I’m glad my goth fashion days are behind me.
    Though I still do have my Sisters of Mercy records.
    My husband would prefer I store them, and all my other goth records, in the bottom left rack (one of 12) next to his embarrassing garage sale finds!
    The nerve.

  5. undeleted

    Ha ha, thanks John! Not joined the cult of AI yet? Good way to see a lot of blogs in a short time if nothing else ..

    And I am convinced that Lesley exists. Just look at that picture!

  6. undeleted

    Hey Halz, that’s cool. Blogs like yours, I’m happy to be bumped by. It’s the evangelical religious nuts, of various varieties, I can’t handle.

    Have you still got your Goth clothes too? When you factor in those records, it’s all adding up to a Gothic-themed party! You can teach your man, and any guests, how to dance like a Goth! You could read extracts from Dracula and pretend you are in Whitby!

    Well, it’s something to think about for Hallowe’en anyway.

    Thanks for stopping by Halz.

  7. With all this bumping going on, you’d think there would be baby AIs taking over the hemisphere. … But
    Thanks for the nice comment, even if I was merely a part of some vast AI experiment ;-)
    peacefulowlphotography.wordpress.com

  8. undeleted

    It’s like a cult. But I think I like it Peacefulowl.

    And thank you for the nice comment too.

  9. What? Even MORE internet gadgets I have to strive to ignore? Bah. I got rid of my Sisters 12″ last year I think. The man in the shop in Camden seemed pleased to receive them. I checked them out before bagging them up and ended up laughing so loud at how melodramatic it all seemed… :-)

    I might still have that Sisterhood album somewhere with Alan Vega on it tho.

  10. No I never got *that* deep into them (I had to buy all those Psychic TV live albums, after all!).

    Creaming Jesus did a cover of Temple of Love which includes my friend Andy (the singer) protesting loudly throughout that they should be doing “Kings of the Wild Frontier” instead.

    But for me it is all about the 9 minute version of “This Corrosion” produced by Jim Steinman. It takes things to a new level of pomp.

  11. undeleted

    And I bet all the records you flogged were US test pressings and white vinyl live bootlegs from Berlin, right?

    “Researching’ this piece I came across the version of Temple Of Love they did with the late, great Ofra Haza .. it’s not great. Dunno why they bothered, really.

    Are you ready for the revival?

    Stay away from AI John, it’s like a drug!

  12. julian

    Is it me, or were the 80’s Goths a lot cheerier than todays Marilyn Manson clones?
    Was never a big fan of the Sisters, but Siouxsie and the Banshees still get played on the Gramophone from time to time, and Bauhaus had some good tunes…and ive allways had a soft spot for Goth ladies! ;)

    Great blog John…now please do some research into how the best music/style ever ( Jamaican Ska/Reggae – “Skinhead”/”Hard Mod” ) became co-opted by the sub-moronic Nazi’s, as no-ones ever given me a definitive answer as too how this glorious sublime Black music/style spawned hordes of bleached jeaned bonehead retards…?

  13. Great post, only last Sunday I played a version of the Sisters of Mercy’s Corrosion in the pub with my ukulele band!

  14. undeleted

    Crikey. Thanks very much for the comments, chaps.

    I always thought Creaming Jesus were American but I was a touch distracted at the time. That cover sounds great though.

    I think the Sisters are all about the pomp, John. You can see the logic in getting Steinman involved and while I wouldn’t ever want to hear it, I’m actually glad that nine-minute version of This Corrosion exists.

    I don’t really have much contact with Gothic teens these days Julian – but the kids who hang about next door to Urbis in Manchester on Saturday afternoons look a pretty cheerful bunch. They’re probably more emo kids or moshers more than proper, full-on Goths though.

    A lot of that miserable moping about, looking forlorn and winsome was just posing then – one of the geezers in the piece is a plasterer, remember – and I suspect it might be the same now.

    I think Mr Eden and / or Mr Stewart Home are your best bet for all that skinhead stuff. But skins were into ska before the skinhead scene fell under the influence of organised racists.

    And after that, I think there was probably various kinds of doublethink going on, such as liking Jamaican music but wanting Jamaican migrants and their kids repatriated or thinking that people from the Caribbean were okay but hating Asians.

    Or even not believing any of that shit at all. A lot of skins were absolutely not racist, even in the late Seventies / early Eighties.

    And thanks very much for your kind words Transpontine. Does your band have the MySpace?

  15. What the hell is bumping?
    I feel old. But not as old as AE…
    I enjoyed this piece even though I don’t know any S of M songs at all!
    x

  16. J.R.

    Goths need to listen to House music. Even someone with as much angst as me chills out from it.

    And Mr. Fingers said, “let there be House”

  17. undeleted

    Hey Foxy, http://www.alphainventions.com allows you to see the front pages of loads of different blogs in quick succession. You can add your url to the reading cycle but it’s only there until another blogger adds their url and bumps you off the list. It’s a good way to see a lot of blogs in a very short space of time.

    Glad you like the piece. I wonder if Andrea’s Ian would approve?

    That’s a top tune JR, one of my all time house music favourites in fact – and by a fellow son of Chicago too! There are some great pix on that vid. In the photo of Larry Heard, Ron Wilson and Robert Owens in front of all the records shelves, one of them has a bag from Jumbo, just about the best record shop in Leeds. How did that happen?

  18. I don’t think he’s been Andrea’s Iain for a while. I lost touch with her ages ago though.
    Alpha inventions….the only alpha round here is the ‘let’s make christianity fun again’ bunch at the local church. Be careful out there…

  19. I remember seeing Sisters of Mercy support Depeche Mode at Crystal Palace. The goths were a bit upset when Eldritch turned up in pink heart sunglasses and a white polo-neck!

    I used to be a goth – I have many friends who are goths – they’re harmless :)

  20. Creaming Jesus are indeed British and I know this cos Andy works for my college’s student union.

    This Is England is a really good movie about the skins getting subverted by the racists. Dunno how factually accurate it is (I wasn’t there…) but it’s very moving.

    Subcultures — wicked.

  21. undeleted

    Eldritch always was a very snappy dresser, fidgetrainbowtree. Didn’t he have a period in the Nineties where he dressed entirely in white?

    I don’t really have a problem with Goths anymore. I didn’t in the first place, really – I was just exaggerating a bit for the purposes of the piece. I actually think they’re quite cool in a lot of ways.

    Not sure they’re all harmless though. Remember Dylan and Eric? I’d probably go with Douglas Adams: Mostly harmless.

    Thanks for the comment.

    Creaming Jesus pretty much completely passed me by Andrew. I was too busy dancing to actual dance music to worry about some weird Goth / techno / metal hybrid. They sound like fun, in a strange and disorientating kind of way, but I think you probably had to be there to fully appreciate them. My loss.

    This England was great. How good are Thomas Turgoose and Steven Graham?

    I think it painted a pretty accurate picture of smalltown England in the early Eighties – even if it was a picture painted with big, broad strokes. Odd elements were a touch chronologically confused but I definitely recognised the time and the place.

    Wasn’t it set in Grimsby? I grew up about 20 miles down the road from there. Some aspects of it were very familiar.

    Great movie. I saw it on a plane. It made me want to listen to ska records but I had to go to my brother’s wedding in Florida instead.

    Thanks for stopping by Andrew.

  22. I like depeche mode always have fidgetrainbowtree.

    Does that make me a goth? hmmmmm

  23. undeleted

    Yes it does, you big Goth.

  24. Big Chris

    I’ve still got my Sisters records and she doesn’t know. Wait… … … I haven’t got a Sister!

  25. undeleted

    Couldn’t your kid bruv make an effort and dress up? You’re not going to tell me he’s not done it before ..

  26. Waka

    DJing last week and played Temple of Love. It went down a storm……..mixed it into A Place to Bury Strangers…..first danced to this record at Scunthorpe Baths, at a Steve Bird Disco…those were the days…

  27. undeleted

    Great days Waka. They should do an archive of punters’ memories if they ever open the Baths again, like the Band on the Wall in Manchester is doing. Lots of ker-razy tales, no doubt.

  28. yan tree

    oooohhh – 1988, you & dallas went to the Astoria to see….etc etc. hey do i know you? I used to live next door to Dallas at that time, in woodhouse…did you know Nut & Becky & Sado & Nick & Zippy etc etc…

    even though i am, was, always will be a true black n red anarcho punk – i’ve loved me some goth – down the Phonographique (rip) dancing with Marc Almond, well nearly he was there but so very aloof I guess. Down the Fav (faversham), one group was the sisters crew, then there was the Soft cell troop & never did the camps seem to mix???

    actually when i returned to Leeds for a few years 1994-1997 Tony who was doing local gig reviews & made a free music paper (& his one time pagan girlfriend…names again???) whispered in my ear that an ‘interesting group’ was gonna play at the Fenton…so i raced round all my mates that I knew & no one was the slightest bit interested…still, i went saw a cool group from Sheffield called ‘Bear’ & they were lovely people too cos I kinda chilled out with them (as i wanted to do a music paper review type thing) & the Dr Phibes band came on & yup it was the Sisters doing a local secret gig! wow!!! I was impressed & really enjoyed it & amazed at what such short stature the eldritch person had (made huge by the hype – in my minds eye!) & what a big hat he wore.
    I did a review for Tonys paper & I was gonna send one to the NME but I started writing poetry instead in Roundhay Park on my birthday.

    what a lovely site this is, i may’ve mentioned this before ;-)

  29. undeleted

    Yes, I think we met a few times Yan. I knew everyone you mention, plus all the inhabitants of Sillyville, Southview House etc.

    I used to go down to the Phono on Saturday afternoons a bit before I moved to Leeds and when I lived in the city used to go there with many of the people above for Basil’s Well Funked Society do on Thursday nights. You paid in and got four pints included in the price or something but I always seemed to end up getting booted out for smoking pot by the manager guy who looked like Roger Daltry in Tommy.

    I worked with Tony at the Leeds Other Paper and then the Northern Star. I can’t remember the name of his girlfriend either but I do remember being really off my head at Glastonbury one year, seeing her rolling around in the dirt and inadvertently getting a eyeful of her pum-pum. It was a sight that stayed with me for a long time.

    It would have been great to have seen the Sisters at the Fenton. I think the music papers’ loss is the poetry world’s gain, Yan. Love the fact that you blew it all off to write poetry in the park. Why don’t you try to find some online Sisters fan forum and send them the review you did write? I’m sure they’d get a kick out of it.

    Glad you’re liking the site.

  30. Pingback: uncarved.org blog » Blog Archive » the historification of “goth”

  31. Pingback: Goth piss | Fitnfabulous

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