It’s fair to say that since I first started going to Whitby in 2004, things have changed. The people running gigs at the Spa have changed (twice, now), the people coming to Whitby has continued to change, and remarkably some fringe events continue to thrive away from the limelight. There has been epic drama, on multiple occasions, there have been tiresome wars of sniping comments online, and a general feeling that such behaviour by organisers of events, no less, has done no favours to the weekends as a whole.
But, this time around, it seemed that such drama had (finally) been set aside for a little while, and the actual events would be able to show their good sides, especially as the Spa events on Friday and Saturday night both sold out, the events at the Met did very well too, and generally it felt like there was a vague return to what we might call “normal”.
Thanks to COVID, this was our first return to Whitby in three years, and with no football this time around (it will return in April, that much is confirmed), it felt a little…discombobulated. Part of that, though, might have been the fact that I was deliberately going to watch some bands over the weekend, for the first time in a while at Whitby.
But, you ask: I’m known as a voracious consumer of music, going to gigs whenever time allows. Sure, but Whitby hasn’t always been my thing for music, and I treat my weekends there, for the most part, as a holiday away from writing about music, from consuming music. It’s a time to see friends (and play football).
This time was different, though. A US band I really wanted to see was playing on the Friday, a very good new(ish) project from other friends was playing elsewhere on Friday night, and a blurb for a band playing on Saturday afternoon had piqued my interest. So, I made plans for all three.
/Tomorrow’s Ghosts /Friday 28-Oct 2022
That band I’d shuffled plans around to see was NYC-based band Bootblacks. A band that has made quite a splash in recent times – particularly thanks to the exceptional Thin Skies, released at the tail end of 2020 (#22 on /Countdown /Albums /2020 on this site) – but they’ve been around for a while before that.
I’d interviewed them for Stay-In-Fest, too, in 2020 (catch up with that on /Talk Show Host /068), and that interview made me all the more curious: they are a band with a wide swathe of influences, far beyond the limits of goth and post-punk, and their sound shows this.
Erosion / Hidden Things / Sudden Moves / The Jealous Star / Decoys / Nostalgia Void / Voices / Traveling Light / Inextinguishable
What does that mean in terms of sound, then? There is a slick, streamlined feel to their songs, particularly the newer songs from Thin Skies, but it is evident in older songs too, such as the propulsive power of Erosion which opened the set, and the bright synths and chiming guitars of Decoys, but also the still-fantastic Voices, one of their oldest songs and full of rich vocals and nods to their goth forebears, but never forgetting the future either.
That said, the newer songs were often the highlights of the all-too-short set. The electronic pulse of The Jealous Star is like a jolt to the brain, while the urgent, thundering drums of Nostalgia Void are such a damned thrill live, as well as on record.
Sadly – despite being billed as on for forty minutes, for reasons unexplained, the last two songs were cut from the setlist, and we got barely thirty minutes. A shame, really, as an ever-growing crowd were clearly getting into this band that were unfamiliar to many. Hopefully they will return, as this was an excellent performance, that delivered everything I’d hoped for.
/Met Ballroom /Friday 28-Oct 2022
On what wasn’t a particularly warm October evening, it was then a swift ascent back up the clifftop, and over to the Met Ballroom, for my second dose of The Scarlet Hour in 2022 (after seeing them in an earlier slot at Goth City in the summer – /Memory of a Festival /035 refers). We had intended on also catching the headlining Lizzie and the Banshees, but our wider group had other plans that involved cocktails, so we only saw a couple of songs.
Much like in the summer, The Scarlet Hour were very good indeed, but unlike the summer, they had a longer set here and took full advantage. Bathed entirely in appropriate red light for the whole set, they looked dramatic and sounded so, too.
Their sound is not as Goth as you might expect: although with Mel’s basslines that are a key part of their sound, and Tim’s rich, snarling baritone vocals, you might be forgiven initially for dismissing them as an eighties goth throwback. The programmed beats and synths – all on a backing track live, which is perhaps to be expected when they are a duo – point the sound down the Darkwave route, and even that they use to play with perceptions.
Especially the industrial-leaning power of Warhead, a song that brings to mind VNV Nation, of all bands, and will open their upcoming debut album Warnings, due out in the new year. And the gloomy, downbeat Lair, which leans into surprisingly bright dreampop as much as it does The Cure’s backcatalogue.
There was much to enjoy here, and I’m now fascinated to hear the album when it comes.
/Goth At The Brewery /Saturday 28-Oct 2022
Saturday afternoon took us to Whitby Brewery, in the shadow of the Abbey on the clifftops, which makes for a dramatic destination (and a frustrating, time-consuming walk fighting your way through the dress-ups and legions of photographers on Church Street on a Goth Weekend Saturday afternoon). A few years into what has become an established part of the Goth Weekend, though, and it’s clear that there are now problems with it.
Being a free event – and having smaller bands that people are curious to see – means that it is way oversubscribed, the tiny bar having queues of fifty plus all afternoon, and the large amount of seating and tables in the main room (and excess barrels to use as more) means that a good majority of the attendees simply can’t get in to see the bands – at least there’s a large number of tables outside, I guess.
Thus, I only saw one live act. That was north-eastern band Playdead – not to be confused with the South London punk band, or even an Oxford post-punk band from forty years back – whose blurb suggested they were bringing influences from nineties goth/industrial-metal. Most of that influence, sadly, was Marilyn Manson, whose appalling behaviour revealed recently has meant elimination from DJ sets and listening from mine and my wife’s perspective (and indeed many friends – and we were rather appalled, in fact, to see his music still being played by other DJs who should know better over the weekend, too). So that meant perfunctory riffs, programmed beats, and “edgy” lyrics about sex and violent sex that, frankly, is way past being cool these days.
We gave up after that – I would have liked to have seen Last July, but I couldn’t get near the doors to hear them, so I didn’t bother. I can’t help but feel that there needs to be a rethink for April: it’s a lovely venue, with good beer, but as a gig venue, it leaves an awful lot to be desired.