I don’t often go to Goth Festivals for music. There, I said it. Whitby, for me, long since became a social holiday, where I catch up with old friends and play football – I only occasionally see bands there. Most of the rest of the festivals I attend, of course, are broadly industrial or electronic based.
Memory of a Festival: 031
Goth City 3: Season of the Witch
Wharf Chambers, Leeds
Goth City 3 on Flickr
So it was perhaps with a little trepidation that I agreed to go to a smaller Goth Festival, where it would very much be about the music, as well as the promise of a great many friends (and yes, there was football too – Real Gothic won 7-3 on the Sunday afternoon).
I wasn’t that worried, really, though. Joel Heyes has, by all accounts, done a great job with the first two years of Goth City, an impressively not-for-profit festival (profits go to PAFRAS (Positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers)) that sprawls across nearly two weeks in Leeds – certainly one of the originating cities for the modern Gothic movement – and takes in other aspects of Gothic culture as well as the music, something that is worth bearing in mind when you consider what Goth “is” (and I’m not asking that question again).
The venue was an interesting one, too. Hidden away in a back-street near The Calls, gentrification of the whole area happily hasn’t swept everything away, and being a near-anonymous building outside meant that the members-only nature of the venue meant that it rather felt like we were in our own little world inside the bustling city of Leeds for two nights.
amodelofcontrol.com on Facebook
The Friday night was the shorter night, just three bands – and two of those bands were relatively late notice changes after the originally intended bands had to pull out. Happily, though, of the bands that I really wanted to see across the whole weekend was the one that were still in the line-up.
That band was the weekend openers, The Golden Age of Nothing. A Teesside band that was recommended to me from a friend in that part of the world a few years back, I was immediately smitten with the single Black Wings (#10 on Countdown: 2016: Tracks) and swiftly dug out their other material, and I’ve stayed in touch with the band since – and I offer my grateful thanks to the band for filling in the gaps in my memory for the setlist repeated here.
The Golden Age of Nothing setlist
You Wish You Were
The Fall Down
The Imperial Broadcast
Everything Is On Fire
On record, their sound is slower-paced than many goth bands, with definite Cure and Bad Seeds influences – but live there is a rawer edge that suggests a faded decadence of sorts. They are a three-piece, with vocals/guitars, bass and a violinist (the rest on backing track, hardly unusual for a goth band where drummers appear to be a desperately rare commodity!), and the violin in particular is used cleverly to add texture to an already rich sound.
The half-hour-plus set flew by, too, and it comprised of a mix of songs across their releases so far, and as far as I could tell a few new songs (which hopefully suggests new material is coming in the future at some point). Even by their standards, though, some of the songs here were bleak. The Imperial Broadcast – if I recall correctly it was explained that this is a song from the point of view of the Japanese in WWII – was desperately dark and elegant, while later – and presumably new – song Whip was described as “a nasty piece of work” by Graeme the vocalist, and he wasn’t wrong. He attacked his guitar like he was dishing out pain, and the repeated slashing riff and snarled title refrain that closed out the track felt cathartic.
The last song, Everything Is On Fire, is one of the few moments where the band pick up the pace a bit, and despite being three years old, feels absolutely appropriate for a moment where it feels like the world is about to burn. An impressive show, this, and fucking hell, London promoters, sort it out – get this band down here, stat.
I was less impressed with Sometime The Wolf – who also play the new Whitby event this coming weekend, interestingly supporting the band that they sound an awful lot like – Fields of the Nephilim. So yes, they are metal-edged gothic rock, they are proficient, they are a solid live band, but just not for me – much like the Nephs, actually, who were never really my thing either.
Showing off my lack of knowledge of some parts of Gothic origins, the Friday night headliners (Leeds band Expelaires) were a total mystery to me. As it turns out they were an important part of the Leeds scene, with members having gone on to be part of The Sisters of Mercy, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry and The Mission, but by this point I was flagging a bit and foolishly decided to drink some more and catch up with friends. The folly of this decision was made clear the next morning, as we wrote off much of Saturday daytime to clearing our hangovers…
Goth City Saturday
The remnants of that meant a later appearance at the venue than intended, which meant that among other things we totally missed Voi Vang, who by all accounts was apparently very good. I did like the Manchester band Isolation Division, though, who very much represented the post-punk side of goth, and very much were influenced by their Mancunian forefathers (as the name suggests, Joy Division were among the influences I was picking up, but frankly The Chameleons loomed far larger for me). The songs were good, though, and they are certainly worth catching live.
There was a very different atmosphere for this second night of the weekend – for a start there were more bands, and this night sold out not long into it, too. Part of that, I suspect, was the appearance on the bill of a number of good-sized draws, but there was also the return after a decade of a Sheffield goth band, which drew a whole lot of the Shefgoth crowd up for it.
Indeed, The Way of All Flesh were one of my first local bands I came across even before I moved to Sheffield in 2004, after I met their guitarist Kelly at a party the year before, and he told me about his band. So seeing them again after all these years – and with many of the friends I made all those years ago there – was quite an emotional moment in some respects.
The Way Of All Flesh setlist
Blood and Sand
The band have changed, too. Original vocalist Dave, who was unexpectedly there to see the band’s return, left before the band originally called it quits anyway, and the new vocalist – confusingly also called Dave – was clearly still very new to things here, occasionally referring to a stack of paper for lyrics. But that didn’t actually detract from a confident, powerful performance from both him and the rest of the band, as they powered through a selection of older songs and a couple of songs from their aborted second album. Those older songs have lost none of their power, mind, and Final Resolve and Never Again in particular still have a bulldozing momentum – this was never a band who liked particularly to take their foot off the throttle, playing their gothic rock fast.
They finished – as tradition pretty much always dictated, and it was good to see it continued – with their ever-popular cover of White Wedding as something of a celebratory closer. The band looked like they were having as much fun as the crowd by the end, too, and I’ll be interested to see what future gigs they choose to do. It’s certainly great to have them back.
That said, my memory being as it is, I should probably pay closer attention to set-time information in future at festivals (or actually look more than once at the smartly-produced programme in this case), as I confused the running order and thus missed the vast majority of Last July, although that said I’ve seen them a few times before. I’d probably have rather seen them than Saigon Blue Rain, mind, who I left after a song as their ethereal, wispy goth sound was really not what I was looking for on that evening.
The headliners were much better, mind, and certainly got probably the biggest crowd of the night. Rome Burns have been stalwarts of the UK Goth scene since the mid-90s, although various events meant that the band effectively went on hiatus for much of the past decade (with the exception of the odd gig here and there). This return saw most of the core of the band back – Simon, Daevid and Nevla, with the addition of Mike from fellow UK Goths Manuskript on bass – and much like TWOAF, the band had an infectious joy about being on stage that transmitted easily through pretty much every song that they performed.
It has taken me a great many years to really “get” this band, but frankly, I hadn’t been paying attention to Simon’s lyrics properly. These are smart songs – using clever metaphors and imagery to traverse what might be otherwise well-worn paths (the relationship woes of the excellent The Escapologist being a case in point). But this is far from the only example – the belting Coordinates of Control opened the set with a hell of a bang, too – and Simon’s other work as a writer very much shine through in his wordy lyrics. But I’ve a lot of time for this – I’d rather I was listening to a band with something to say.
I was a little surprised with the encore in some respects – I’d never heard their cover of Your Woman, or at least had totally forgotten about it, as I’ve certainly seen the band a few times in the past – and it worked surprisingly well, before the band finished things off with Alixandrea from Last July assisting on an epic Non-Specific Ghost Story, a song grimly appropriate with Hallowe’en just around the corner.
The nostalgia wasn’t over with the bands finishing, either, as Howard from Carpe Noctum unleashed a number of old Shefgoth dancefloor favourites (Room 57 and Adrenaline back-to-back for starters? No wonder my legs were killing me the next day, never mind the football as well), all of which kept us going for a whole lot longer than I thought we might.
As well as giving a look back at the past, though, this also helped to provide a pointer toward the future. There is certainly a goth scene still going on nicely in the North, with a host of bands active, and a reminder that not everything in the scene revolves around one event or the other – and indeed although there were a few of us up from London for the weekend, there was more than enough local content and attendance. In addition, Joel can consider the festival a job well done – it was well organised enough that I didn’t even consider that side of things until after the event. Bands broadly ran to time, there was no drama that I was aware of, and it was a throughly entertaining weekend from start to finish.
I’m already ready to clear space in the calendar for Goth City in 2019, that’s for sure.