Any Colour As Long As It's Black
is a common joke among Goths that no Goth admits to being one.
Certainly I wasn't: I was (and am) someone who likes Gothic stuff, who
enjoyed the company of Goths (there's a film title in there).
However people from outside The Subculture (as for want of
anything better it gets pretentiously called) are often fascinated, and
sometimes concerned, by it. So I offer some thoughts about its nature
to come up with a definition of this
strange and unsettling genre - and is it a 'genre'? Perhaps it's more
inclination, an itch, buried in the psyche - can keep you occupied
long time. I amused myself for ages at it. The trouble is that 'Gothic'
its meaning over time, yet maintains a near-miraculous inner
consistency - and continually
refers back to itself - and the best 'definition' is simply to tell the
sorry tale, which I tell, in very short terms, on the 'Gothic Books'
So What’s It All About?
can spend even more time thinking about this should you please. Again,
says something different. The academics talk about the expression of
the chaps and girls in black lipstick talk about individuality and fun.
eventually settled for the idea of Gothic as a means of working through
ambiguity. All the signifiers of Gothic, the horror theatrics, the ghosts,
fondness for black and bloodiness, express existential threat. They're about
undoing of the human. Goths like to dance on the edge of the
relishing the unease. Gothic means the love of what you fear, the
attraction to and repulsion from the possibility of our
own undoing - and, frankly, the ultimate fact of our own
undoing. And having a bit of a laugh at very serious matters. This is
why some youngsters move in and out of the subculture in a few
years while others remain. The leavers have come to some peace
own and life's contradictions; or have chosen to put them mentally to
anyway. For the rest of us, it's not quite so easy or clear-cut.
that's my reading of it all, for what it's worth.
Gothic and Me
As I find
with a lot of people, I can't really identify any clear time when my Gothic
enthusiasms began: I've always had a fondness for ruined places, skeletons, and
haunted houses. Later I found out about Gothic architecture from being
interested in ruins, and really until quite late the only meaning Gothic had
for me was referring to the spiky bits on churches. By accident in my
mid-teens I discovered the dark glamour of Siouxsie and the Banshees, and so
out of that encounter with Goth music came some faint inkling that the word
meant something more. Before going to college I inherited a plain black suit
from a cousin and eventually my wardrobe became, by no very obviously conscious
process, more and more monochrome (when I was coming up to be ordained friends
joked about how difficult I would find it wearing nothing but black!). It was
one of those friends who sent me an advert for Jennie Gray's 'Gothic Society'
and led me to join that. What a discovery! A whole set of dubious and over-educated
people with similar enthusiasms to my own. Then a couple of years
later I got invited to the inaugural meeting of the Bucksgoth group in High Wycombe,
and kept going from there, encountering a variety of strange and wonderful
things and people.My
time with the Bucksgoths and Oxgoths is almost undocumented, but from
2008 I was involved with the London Goth Meetup and met some wonderful
individuals who I still count among my best friends. Here are some
relics of those times, for your edification and delight, and also to
make the point, if it needed making, that Goths are not, as a rule, Satanists, witches, or emissaries of dark and malign forces.
My own relationship with Gothic has changed over the years. Being a Christian has
great impact. Coming to see the Christian
path as a constant war against the deathliness of
fallen world has set me
against the deathliness within myself these days. Since being
come across quite enough very real pain, distress, and sadness to
the light rather more appealing, too. Gothic is not my business anymore: that's promoting
different themes and ideas. Nevertheless, I am still
deeply drawn to all things ruinous; the first bars of Hong Kong
Garden or Cities
in Dust still
make me shiver; and I still find myself adoring (most) of the Goths I
appropriate that my first trip out with the LGMG was our first
attendance at the open day of Nunhead Cemetery in southeast London.
Nunhead is one of the 'Great Seven' cemeteries opened in the
mid-19th-century to provide more burial space for the capital, and its
Friends organisation holds an Open Day each year, with tours, stalls
and entertainments. Cemeteries, museums, historic houses, anything with
an historical theme was a potential visit for London Gothic, and if it
fitted in with the Gothic continuum, then all the better.|
be honest, most music that gets played at Goth clubs doesn't do much
for me, and sometimes the quality of the sound system is so poor it's hard
to tell what's on the DJ's turntable anyway. You go for the ambience as
much as anything else. My favourite club was Tanz Macabre, which
used to be held down in the Stygian depths of the Arts Theatre Club in
Frith Street, Soho. The venue was tiny and moving around inside often presented a distinct challenge, yet it had a charm unmatched anywhere else. There was a fireplace and a piano, for heaven's sake. It suited me, too, as it operated on a Sunday night from 6 to 11, meaning I could tear
away after an evening service at church, enjoy a couple of hours and
still be home at a tolerable time. I remember one particular visit
after a long absence, and the accompanying sense of warmth,
companionship, and coming home. It's good that Tanz still exists, but it's moved loc ation and time a number of times and no longer fits with my habits and demands.|
The third photo above shows
Vagabonds, another London club, in its longest-term home at the Liberty
Bounds, a Wetherspoon pub on the edge of the City. The Liberty aspired to a tawdry sort of glamour which suited the Goths perfectly, with a swooping staircase and a balcony for observing the dancefloor.
Again, as is the habit of these things, the management decided they
didn't want Vagabonds around anymore, and it never really settled
anywhere else, folding entirely after about 18 months.
had other, more sedate favourite venues, too. I organised a couple of
gatherings at the Bridge Coffee House in Shoreditch, a wonderfully
opulent little café with a vaguely Ottoman feel to it, packed with theatrical furnishings and whose upper
floor is screened from the vulgar world outside with thick drapes.
popular gathering which still takes place is the Alternative Bring
& Buy Sale. Vendors of a tremendous variety of stuff from hats to
jewellery to books to (as you can see) mugs descend periodically on the
Dome in Tufnell Park to offer their wares to a discerning public. I
always found that those of us with a Y chromosome were decidedly less well
catered for, but you stood a chance of catching up with all sorts of
people there. |
long series of Goth Walks was a great LGMG institution during the time
the group was run by the Young Lord Declan and his spouse Minerva. Dex
is a great enthusiast for history and as a means of sharing some of the
arcane facts he discovered about the nooks and crannies of the capital
organised a set of themed walks which eventually numbered into the
early 30s. The walks not only introduced people to a variety of places
and parts of London and aspects of its history, but gave people a
chance to chat, before, during, and after walking, in a way which noisy
clubs don't. This particular Walk was no.7, 'A Matter of Honour', which concerned duelling and took us round a damp Hyde Park.|
a way of giving something back to the Group, I also contributed to the
Walks and ended up devising a number. These photos, clockwise from top
left, were taken by friends and show the walks I did about City
churches (looking towards St Dunstan-in-the-East), Gothic Revival
architecture (at All Saints' Church, Margaret Street), Dickens (by St
Andrew-in-the-Wardrobe), and wells (round the
back of King's Cross at the site of St Chad's Well). |
finish with a variety of snaps of social events, but I remember perhaps
most fondly the summer parties I hosted at the Rectory for a couple of
years for those friends bold enough to make it out to darkest Surrey.
My garden is not really that well-suited to croquet, as it slopes and
has two fruit trees in the middle of the lawn, but that didn't stop us.|