What it (was) is like to be a Goth

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gothic charm school bookReading Jillian Venter’s Gothic Charm School it has allowed me to look back over my life as a Goth over the last (mumbles in her mittens here) 30 years – good grief!

Even when I have been through other phases of my life (hippie at college – it has to be done, Princess Diana flick and matching wardrobe to pastel queen) I have always been Goth. Why? Because Goth is more than just dying your hair black, wearing black and listening to The Cure (backwards) it is actually a state of mind in the sense that you are drawn to the beauty of darkness in the world, especially in history.

How it was to be Goth then

Back in the mid eighties when the world was swooning over Michael J Fox and Back The The Future (yes, I was a fan too) I found a comfort in wearing black. A few of my friends (boys) where dolling up in black drain pipes and winklepickers that went on into infinity. My friend Doc introduced me to The Sisters of Mercy and The Cure.

I had already built up quite a fancy for Simple Minds and U2 but I was after something more darker. In those days we didn’t really go to clubs. In our little village, there was nothing to do. A bus came through once a week. There were pubs which were oldly worldly and full of jodpurs and tweed so it wasn’t the place for Goths. The only thing we could do was catch lifts off our parents to go to the nearest train station (five miles away) and head up to London to hang around Camden and Carnaby Street. The Batcave was a place we only dreamed about. In a small village in Surrey, there we were. Very small and not in the right setting.

Music and the legend of John Peel

We had records and leather thongs around our wrists but really, that was as much as we could do to express ourselves. TOTPs on a Thursday night or even The Tube were shows we could watch if The Mission were going to be on, yet for us, we had to make do with what ever mainstream was punching out into the airwaves at the time. Thankfully we had John Peel on a Friday night on Radio 1 to fill our brains with the alternative and the off beat stuff like The Three Johns and The Cocteau Twins. It was no wonder that many Goths like us at the time were longing for Bauhaus but made do with Aha.

penny dreadful box setEven during my Princess Diana years (minus the smiling and waving and collecting flowers from small children phase) I loved nothing than spending a miserable Sunday with my box set of Penny Dreadful and wishing I was Eva Green. It is an art form – a way of seeing the world so it is not surprising that during these states of navy blue suits, I would often have days of Goth.

Notes for non-Goths

To be drawn to Goth doesn’t mean to say you are about to take your own life and that all loved ones around you need to take flight and call social services. It isn’t like that. It’s a warm family of black cladded people who enjoy beautiful literature like Jayne Eyre and adore weekends drifting around places like Haworth (Bronte country) and Glastonbury. We adore Gothic architecture (see wonderful gothic Wells Cathedral here) and dream of wild romantic yet brooding drifters coming into our lives reciting the works of Shelley and Byron. We’re not giving up on life, we are embracing it.

It’s okay to be Goth no matter what age, where you are and what you are doing with your life. You are amongst friends. We are out there for you.

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Wells Cathedral, Somerset – Beautiful Gothic Places To Visit

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WELLS CATHEDRALWells Cathedral, Wells, Somerset

Goth points: 5 out of 10.

Free to visit but you can donate a fiver if you want to. You will feel the need to.

Great if you have a dog – I have never been to a Cathedral which was dog friendly before, but in Wells, everyone loves dogs. Your dog will be happy to be here and be welcomed everywhere!

What’s it like? It is supposed to be the earliest example of Gothic church architecture in the UK. A truly Gothic place to visit, quite literally! Built between 12th and the 15th century, it may not have the grimness that many London Gothic places to visit will have, but it is set in a mysterious part of the country which you will want to come back to again and again. Although you will rather get the impression that the place might only have been built in the last 10 years, especially when you’re met by the scissors archway towards the altar. You’ll be scratching your head at it, yet this marvel of a structure has been there for several hundred years. It’s cool.  Dark areas? Not so many but you will love creeping up the warped stone staircase towards the

Medieval village and streets are wistful to walk around, especially on a warm summer’s evening or in the late Autumn. Best bits: Go to Vicar’s Close – the oldest habitual street in the world (or at least, Europe!) Cobbled and full of mystery it was originally built for the choir of the cathedral so that they would have a short walk to their place of worship without being distracted by the outside world!

Next reads: Gothic Places to Vist – Hampton Court Palace

 

 

The Alternative 80’s – How It Was To Be A Goth Then

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When I started seeking out all things dark and alternative back in about 1985, I think the first thing I wanted to do was hang out with other like-minded Goths.

Public schools, especially in Surrey were full of spindly youths in faded drain pipes and long fringes listening to albums like U2’s October and bands like The Alarm in their dormitories, so for me, I was in good company.

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1988-1989…That’s me, middle row, far right on the end. The Cleo haircut and black eyeliner was about as much as I could get away with on a school day

My school was an all girl’s independent school in the well to do area of leafy Ashtead in Surrey. Knocked down around 15 years ago due to a lack of local interest (which to this day, still surprised me) Parsons Mead was, during the mid 1980’s full of moody girls papering their walls with posters of Bauhaus and Adam Ant.

The problem with private schools is there is usually more to rebel against. Having parents with careers in the city with little or no time for their fledgling teens, we were grouped together in a sort of black cladded mingle of forgotten girls who smoked too much and loved pouting about their misplaced parents. The music at the time only fuelled our misery. With the Gothic look and alternative subculture now in full swing, it was like being given your life on a plate.

We were taking Goth to a whole new level. We were white middle class kids who really didn’t have anything to be depressed about. We had good educations, money and a future – something that most kids didn’t have in those days, yet we loved to think we were being hard done by, and Gothic culture of the time gave us visual status. We were in and refused to let go.

The Carnaby Street years 1985-1989

On a Saturday afternoon, we were spoilt for choice. Being only a stones throw away from Epsom train station, it was only about 30 minutes and several stops before we were London. Then it was a carefully constructed decision of where to go and look sullen – was it to be Carnaby Street or Camden Town.

For me, Carnaby was the place. In those days, it was wall to wall goth shops that spilled out on to the street. In fact, they oozed so much black stock onto the pavement, it was usually a challenge to find the actual shop front door. Towards the back end of the 80’s, shops that once sold winklepickers with points that went into infinity started selling plastic fetish wear which, for a public school Goth, was not my scene at all. Yet, this was a place to get knocked off band tees and a slimy Chinese lunch. If it wasn’t raining, we would hang out at either end of the street but actually not buy anything because we had spent all our money on train fares.

If we felt flush and wanted to splash out, then we would hit the markets, but you had to know where to go. Second hand shops were in their masses back in the mid 80’s, long before they cottoned on that they could mark up stuff for a higher price. We were the young set who found these thrift shops and bought loud designer Mary Quant style stuff from the 70’s and recrafted to make it our own. So long as it was black (I loved silver threads and glitter like Glam Rock on a bad day) you could rip the sleeves off things, sew on black bows and lace and suddenly it looked like something else. We were creative in those days when jumble sales and markets were still cheap.

Hampton Court, Surrey

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Home of Henry VIII (once Cardinal Wolsey was out-of-the-way) and venue for his marriage to Katherine Parr on the morning of the 12 July 1543. As the sixth wife of the aging King, she made a shrewd move to marry the monarch. encouraging the King to make peace with Mary and Elizabeth, his daughters, Katherine proved herself every bit of the doting Queen required by her Lord and country.

Goth points:

Hampton Court gets a sturdy 7 out of 10. Arrive here after dark (last entry is as late at 4.15pm) on a miserable stormy day and you get the full effect of impending darkness which cloaks the dimly lit palace in each of the royal rooms. Sadly Henry’s quarters are no more, but you can still enjoy a Gothy wander around the richly dressed private rooms of William and Mary.

Price:

Best bet is to buy yourself a Historic Royal Palaces membership card so you can get in for nothing as many times as you like throughout the year or as a one off visit, you are likely to buy an adult ticket for just less than £20. The members card will get you into events like the Food Festival (second weekend in December) where you can enjoy a 16th Century market of food and wares.

Best times to visit:

On a miserable wet November afternoon when it is likely to be empty. For the full 16th Century experience, go towards the end of November and beginning of December when the Palace is decked out in candles, orange peel, cinnamon sticks and pine cones. It’s beautiful.

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Out On The Wiley Windy Moor…

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Kate_Bush_(15312486456)Catherine Bush recorded her first demo under the financial guidance of Dave Gilmour from Pink Floyd. Presenting it with shaky hands to giants EMI, they signed her and she quickly issued her fist single.

The self penned ‘Wuthering Heights’ went straight to number making her the very first British female solo artist to accomplish this feat. Followed only a month later by her release of her first album, ‘The Kick Inside,’ went almost achieved equal success by placing itself at number three in the album chart. An album written totally by her, she had already been well experienced in singing and writing.

Forming her first band titled KT Bush with her brother, Paddy at the tender age of sixteen, she had already been composing on her piano since she was eleven. A pure child prodigy, she was destined to become the strangest, most curious of all female artists to tread the musical ground.

Boldly walking the very male path of art rock, she was self assured and focused to the very last penned note. Studying music, dance and mime, she incorporated these art forms into her every movement both musically and visually. The latter, perhaps fitting her operatic voice, she used visual dress to accentuate her music leaving the viewer mesmerised at such a performance of dance as well as voice.

Her creativeness was originally inspired by her love of all that was the occult and the supernatural. Collaborating with her passion for classic literature, she chose to use classical heroines for the themes of her earlier songs. Theatrical epics were what she actually produced, probably wasted on the general buying public at the time, she managed to touch a chord and drew into her a still and very attentive audience.

Casting a drifting shadow of mystery around her being, she was shy, thoughtful and deeply sensitive when being interviewed, a situation she was far from comfortable with. Touring very little, she, over the years became introverted and felt awkward as though her place in the world had been and gone. Building a fortress around herself, she apparently, although briefly, changed her name to Kathy from Wuthering Heights. (Yet it does not take too much thought to work out that this name was a shortening of her own name anyway..) Feeling disillusioned with the world and the music industry she felt that her music did not have a place and she curled herself up in a little ball to the world and ‘disappeared’ for over a decade.

Eventually coming to the surface by the nagging voices of surrounding influences, she conducted herself into writing suddenly, a new album, ‘Aerial,’ again, a mythical character but this time, her recognition was for her composing and her ability to surprise with the most extraordinary prose and music to fit. Not so much now gawped at for her striking beauty as a young woman. Now she was older, stronger and more a legend with starry eyes looking now up at her, rather than those early years where it had very much been the other way round.

Self designing her own studio at her home, she spent hour after hour perfecting sounds and effects for her records. She craved for the ability to create a visual effect through music to plant an idea into the listener’s head.

She accomplished this by using her knowledge on classic literature. Having that imaginative brain herself, she found it easy to use descriptions of not just scenes in her music but recreating feelings and emotions of those characters who were devised so many years before her time.

Catherine Bush from Bexleyheath in Kent had written her own first album from start to finish marking the start of a career that made her into the most influential British female artist of the twentieth century and beyond…

Forgotten Insects – The Rise And Fall Of Altered Images

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220px-Altered_Images_BiteThe birth of this band from the wee darkest depths of Glasgow happened purely by accident in around 1980. Scruffy school mates by the strangest names of Tich, Tinny, Johnny and Caesar were struggling to get away from the school dances and town halls, getting paid peanuts to sweaty, drunken crowds of kids whose ears were just about as in tune to the music as the band were.

It was only when the older brother of Johnny, by the name of Gerry decided that his girlfriend at the time’s little sister Clare, had a fairly pretty singing voice and that a girl fronting the band might give the guys a bit of a boost. It is these life changing moments that one only hears about in the music industry (like the timely meeting of Lennon and McCartney at a village fete) that bring fame and success all rolled into one. Fate, as we call it seems to strike at the strangest times. These split second occasions don’t happen anymore, or at least, the industry doesn’t allow for them to happen any more due to ‘bands’ and music being mass produced, like a conveyor belt. This is an album review on one of the last bands not to have been produced in this historical and fatalistic way. Some kids got together quite naturally and the rest was history…..

In the early eighties they only released three albums. 81′ Happy Birthday. 82′ Pinky Blue and 83′ Bite. In this time they only released eight singles. The highest position and perhaps their most famous single, ‘Happy Birthday.’ This one reached number 2 in September of 1981. (It was kept off the top slot would you believe by ‘Green Door’ by Shakin Stevens.)

These youngsters dedicated their lives to making music. With pop so soulless and cold today, it can make you one minute into an overnight sensation, then drop you like yesterdays fish in the morning. At least Altered Images lasted a smidge longer than that…

There’s A Worm In My Head And A Fish In My Bed…

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Nestled quietly South West from Birmingham off the infamous M5, sits Stourbridge. Unassuming and fairly shadowed by the great Midlands city, it presented to the British indie pop scene a misshapen motley crew of four young men in 1986 who called themselves The Wonder Stuff. It was the brain child of it’s front man Miles Hunt; a mop haired, opinionated student type whose tongue in cheek humour was to become very essence of this unique band.

220px-WonderStuffHupAfter a minor collection of flopped singles, the band caused an unusual stir with their highly acclaimed debut album ‘Eight Legged Groove Machine’ in August 1988, which ignited attention within the masses of public school types eager to adapt their intellectual tendencies towards a surrealistic way of appreciating modern music, not unlike the generation of the late Sixties breathing a sigh of relief at the Monty Python boom.

Hard nosed and a furious dip into the growing craze of indie music, they led the way of future bands, some of which, are still around today. The Wonder Stuff’s adaptation to jumpy, enthusiastic, good feeling music still echoes through many striving bands even now.

After the sudden death of Rob ‘The Bass Thing’ Jones in 1993, their bass man, the idealism of The Wonder Stuff appeared to fall into the darkness. Sometimes, in music history, a band loose direction after the passing of a band member, yet others, have found inspiration and light. After finding the drive to carry on and only two top five albums after, they performed their farewell gig at the Phoenix Festival in 1994.

Several flopped projects have since come and gone and only the statutory compilation releases her and there remain. Forever in their debt, we have learnt great lessons from this band; to enjoy music with an indie flavour, with jollity and humour.

Perhaps if got the world to enjoy life in the same way, the world would be a nice place to visit again….

Pink Hair andAll Good Round Sauce. It must be Fuzzbox!

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We've_Got_a_Fuzzbox_and_We're_Gonna_Use_It_03Somewhere back in the early to mid Eighties, (no one exactly knows when) four dizzy school girls got together and decided to do something with their lives in Birmingham rather than be destined to grace the checkouts in their local Tesco’s.

Sisters Jo and Maggie Dunne (four years older) were eagerly learning to play lead guitar and bass respectively whilst Vickie Perks only had eyes for being a front lady with microphone in hand and petite, blonde Tina O’Neill, already had drumsticks in her tiny grip ready for her first lesson. Not really coming up with any great ideas for a band name, one of them came up with the idea of playing around with one of the instruments they were now rehearsing with. A ‘Fuzzbox,’ to describe it in his entirety, is a guitar pedal used to create a distorted sound. It was first used by Jimi Hendrix and was an essential item to create a surround sound of blurred or ’fuzzy’ noises in rock music predominately. It also was and still is, a certain piece of equipment used by many punk groups around at the time to give the very essence to a punk rock sound. Thus ‘We’ve Got A Fuzzbox And We’re Gonna Use It’ was born…

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Although with their brightly coloured rags and market off cuts image that was more Barbie than pure punk, they were appealing, but albeit out of date. Gracing the Indie charts was about as good as they could get in their early days. Too clean and well made up for anything along side The Slits, they took their place next to fellow extreme make up appliers, Strawberry Switchblade in the quest for pouts, powder, ribbons and vacant expressions. Now well equipped and fully all lessoned up on their respective instruments, they were ready to release their first single.

Looking back on this band, we wonder if it could have been possible for this band to have kept going. Leaving the scene on such a creative high, it always seems such a shame that band’s depart company when to appears that they could have had so much more to say. We had watched Fuzzbox grow and we grew with them, from their messy, embarrassing and over coloured take on punk they were, only briefly mind, to punk what the Cheeky Girls were to pop music; but they broke away, rather glamorously from all that and became the most sort after girly group in the late Eighties, if only for a couple of years – they were the ultimate girl power band.

Spice girls? You ain’t a patch on Fuzzbox…

The Birth Of The Goth In Me Part 1

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goth-2166338__340Back in the 80’s, teenagers I think experimented a lot more with their looks and music a lot more than the youth of today. By the time 1983 came around, Goths were already taking a hold in school.

Over the last two years or so, I had noticed the amount of back combing which had sprung out of nowhere in the girls toilets coupled with a heavy smell of Ellnet hairspray which clung to the walls in the corridors.

My secondary school at the time was a rough pit of thugs and loose girls. Most of us had been on detention at least once that week. Most of us smoked, drank and stayed out late. We ate chips each lunchtime and stood at the bottom of the playground sharing a cigarette between 9 of us. I guess it was about that time when I started to become ‘disillusioned with life’ if there is such a thing when you’re 12.

New Romantics where hitting the music scene but none of that had trickled into school yet. Hard music was for the boys with many of them trying out loafers and drainpipes for the first time a al Madness. Us girls where listening to Madonna’s Like A Virgin and very little else. Music had been in two phases around that time – you either loved the sweetness of Five Star or you were trying to listen to Bad Manners backwards for hidden messages. Guys wearing lip gloss was still for wimps. It hadn’t hit our rough neck school yet.

I think the only outlet there is these days is Cosplay – something me and my son take part in when the big events are on at the NEC or the ExCel. But that isn’t music related. Inn the 80’s, heros were bands, singers and musicians. There were video games but you couldn’t dress like Pac Man. You wanted to look like Robert Smith (with bad make up) or Stevie Nicks (if you moved closer to whimsical rather than Bat Cave girl.) They sang your thoughts, your feelings and were a visual tool in how you wanted to look. Music was everything.

And I’m sorry Sisters of Mercy – as much as you don’t want to be associated with Goth, the last time I saw you in concert was at Bristol 2016. The whole auditorium was a sea of Goths with pale faces. These are your fan base. They buy your records. They have made you rich. Get over it.

Where the journey endth…

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It was about 1987 when I first discovered Goth. I mean, for me, it was Fiona prodding me with a slightly chewed cassette tape of Sisters of Mercy for me to indulge in that weekend.

I hadn’t been taken with anything sort of sub culture up until that point. For me, it was all a bit weird, and someone who wore black a lot of the time was bound to be suicidal or just mildly annoyed with the world. Punk had passed me by during the lat Seventies and New Romantics to me where just guys in too much lip gloss. Yet, that weekend, when I randomly stuffed Fiona’s tape into my stereo and hit play, my life change.

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In those days, we didn’t have Google and YouTube. If you hear something you like on the, dare I say it, radio, you immediately grab your phone, Google what you think are the lyrics (if it was Nirvana, these were often debatable) or you go on to YouTube of Apple Music and found your newly heard track – all over and done with in literally seconds. Back then, you had to wait until the next time your mum could take you to the nearest library which had a half decent record section or music shop and half heartedly sing out this track until someone in the shop tapped you on the shoulder and either asked you to leave or better still, told you what you were singing.

At the time I heard SoM ‘This Corrosion’ on Fiona’s tape, I had already a stack of Number One magazines in the corner of my bedroom I was able to desperately flick through until I saw a smallish article on these black cladded, pale-faced sticks. I found myself not looking at the state of Andrew Eldritch, the lead, but the girl looking gormlous next to him – bassist Patricia Morrison, who gave SoM their sombre, morbid but brilliantly Gothic look.

After that, I plunged myself into black. The deeper the colour, the better. In fact, I would have been happy with a black so black that I disappeared into my own black hole. Yet the Morrison look, as much as I craved that dark, sinister yet very feminine look, wasn’t what ended up in my wardrobe. I found that as time when on, I was more Stevie Nicks in a bad mood than I was Patricia Morrison from Sisters of Mercy.

(I made sure brown didn’t creep into my wardrobe – that came later in my 40’s when I found Steampunk.)

Until about 1992, I remained faithful to my Goth roots. I dyed my hair bright, bright white and kept my page-boy hair cut (I was never any good at growing it) under a wide-brimmed black hat. I had lived in my black fish nets with silver seams and darkly long flowing pleated skirt and ankle boots with far too many silver buckles. I had spent years sticking drawing pins into the heels of my worn boots to give them that ‘I couldn’t care less’ clicking sound as I walked pouting along Carnaby Street in London.

After that it was life, motherhood and career which dragged me reluctantly away from Goth. Yet, I spend many years in my corporate life thereafter smiling and nodding at Goths I would pass in the street. I still craved my Edgar books and Wuthering Heights. I clung to all things Victorian and treasured my Mission and Cure tapes in the car. Once a Goth, always a Goth. It’s not a phase you grow out of. It’s a part of who you are. I chose to, and still do, dip into a sea of black flowing dresses and romantic hair dos when I am not in the office. Growing older now, I have discovered my love of Gothic culture again and feel that embracing it now is more about being settled in who I am.

The journey did end once, but I never threw away the map or gave up on the destination.

It begins again….