It’s been a few years since we were last in Whitby, but going back for the October edition of the bi-annual Goth Weekend feels like a homecoming. There’s something special about Whitby in October that makes the trip there feel like a pilgrimage. No visit to the Abbey though as rain stops play, although that doesn’t halt the long queue of people attempting the trip up the hill. The town is filled to the brim with everyone from Steampunks to Vampires, and even a few Japanese tourists getting into the spirit of Halloween. If anyone is concerned about the festival losing its Goth credentials they can be quickly discarded as three of the seven bands playing this year have connections to the Sisters of Mercy, with The Mission, Salvation, and The March Violets playing. Andrew Eldritch may not think Sisters of Mercy are a Goth band, but indirectly he’s been responsible for some of the finest 80s Goth music ever made.
Friday sees a shorter event than usual, just the three bands playing. They all get plenty of stage time though, and an extra-long set from the main headliner on the day.
Whitby locals Westenra open up the festival, a three piece with a classic Gothic rock feel to them. Lead singer Luciferia looks every bit the Goth queen on stage in her black latex outfit. Its Goth rock at its ethereal best and being local they manage to pull in the early evening crowd with plenty of support on display.
Theatre Of Hate are next up with some old school post-punk. While not as commercially successful as Kirk Brandon’s other band from the 80s, Spear Of Destiny, it’s still a great band and they sound amazing. The crowd laps them up with plenty of people singing along. It’s also not often you get to hear a saxophone at a Goth gig.
Headliners for the first night are The Mission. They’ve certainly got their fans in attendance, with one group draping a huge flag over the barrier at the front. Wayne Hussey seems to have missed the memo about the dress code for Goth festivals and comes out in a purple paisley shirt and dark glasses. It’s left to guitarist Simon Hinkler to don the trademark black cowboy hat. To be fair though, it’s Wayne Hussey, and he can wear whatever he damn pleases. It’s a fantastic show full of the biggest hits. Wayne even gets down onto the barrier for some audience participation as the crowd sing along. The second encore sees plenty of people up on shoulders for the extended version of ‘Tower Of Strength’. By the time they finish they’ve shown why they’re one of the best loved Goth bands of the 80s and beyond,
The Saturday sees the familiar four band line-up, but with the added bonus of all bands sets being at least an hour long, with the headliners playing past midnight.
Auger open up the Saturday evening and right from the start they sound astonishing. For an opening band they’ve got a pretty good crowd who are more than happy to get on the barrier. The industrial Goths certainly seem to be enjoying themselves and lead singer Kyle Wilson makes a shout out for the Sophie Lancaster Foundation who have their regular spot in the Spa auditorium. It’s a charity he’s worked closely with for years and one he’s clearly passionate about.
Next up is Salvation with a set dedicated to their early works. It’s a great set. Daniel Mass comes out looking more like a London mobster than a Leeds Goth but his vocals are still on point. There’s a common theme to most of bands playing this year, a lack of drummer, as Salvation follow the Leeds Goth tradition of running a drum machine instead. Between them and Auger it would be a hard decision to pick a best band of the night if it wasn’t for what is still to come.
Last of the Leeds Goth bands, The March Violets are the third band on the Saturday. The show is a masterclass in “what if”. They’re the band that everyone has heard but may not remember, even appearing in the teen coming of age film ‘Some Kind Of Wonderful’. They formed in 1981 before splitting up in 1987 and during those six years they created a dedicated fan base that stayed loyal in the intervening years before reforming in 2007. That loyalty is on full display in the crowd as there’s a sea of March Violets tee shirts throughout the venue. What follows is a set of absolute perfection.
Thom Ashton is full of energy and amusing charm on guitar, not afraid of pull a guitar face or two. William Faith pulls bass duties, the only non-original member of the band. He’s got plenty of Goth pedigree of his own though being a founding member of Faith And The Muse, as well as Christian Death and others. With his slicked back bleached hair, black shirt and tie, and pinstripe waistcoat he’s an imposing figure on stage, oozing professionalism. He doesn’t smile much, but that’s okay, this is a Goth band after all. Last up is singer Rosie Garland, dressed in a black suit like a modern-day Vampire Queen. This is highly appropriate given her connections to the old Whitby Dracula Society. Rosie and Thom must have their portraits hidden in the attic as neither of them look old enough to have been forming bands in 1981. Rosie sounds amazing, vocally hitting every note. She’s also utterly charming holding the audience captivated between songs with her little monologues, at one point telling everyone that it had taken them 42 years to finally be invited to play at the Spa Pavilion. They crack through a set that includes their seminal Crow Baby, as well as their later Made Glorious and by the time they get to Snake Dance the crowd are all dancing along to them. What if they had finished their debut album back in 1987 and not split up? They would now certainly be headlining.
The headliners are the Finnish Goth band The 69 Eyes. Given that the rest of the weekend has been filled by 80s Goth stalwarts they seem out of place and the audience clearly feels the same way, as a sizeable crowd decide to head back to their hotels in the rain. There are still plenty remaining to watch, but the gap at the back is certainly more noticeable. For those that stay it’s a much heavier style of Goth music, with a modern hard rock edge to it. It’s a style that Finland seems particularly good at producing as well, with the band sitting somewhere between Ville Valo’s old band H.I.M. and The Rasmus’s more radio friendly Goth rock. They certainly wear their influences on their sleeves as several of their tracks played are clearly movie influenced, with Lost Boys and Brandon Lee both making it to the set list. Jyrki 69 must be having fun though as he throws the Devil Horns at every opportunity he gets. Its past midnight by the time they finish and anyone who hasn’t turned into a pumpkin by this point finally heads off.
Overall it’s been a great weekend of music, every single band sounding superb. From the old stalwarts to the latest bands to pick up an old sound, it’s been one of the best weekends seen in Whiby for many years.
The highlight has to be The March Violets, but that shouldn’t detract from the achievements of the rest of the bands. All that’s left to do now is the make the walk along the cliff edge at the back of the Pavilion back to the hotel in the rain, with Whitby Abbey’s shadow across the harbour.
Just make sure to check the shadows for waiting vampires…