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Any Colour As Long As It's Black

It 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 here. 

Trying to come up with a definition of this strange and unsettling genre - and is it a 'genre'? Perhaps it's more an inclination, an itch, buried in the psyche - can keep you occupied a good long time. I amused myself for ages at it. The trouble is that 'Gothic' changes 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' page.

So What’s It All About?

Well, you can spend even more time thinking about this should you please. Again, everyone says something different. The academics talk about the expression of social unease, the chaps and girls in black lipstick talk about individuality and fun. I eventually settled for the idea of Gothic as a means of working through moral ambiguity. All the signifiers of Gothic, the horror theatrics, the ghosts, the fondness for black and bloodiness, express existential threat. They're about the undoing of the human. Goths like to dance on the edge of the volcano, relishing the unease. Gothic means the love of what you fear, the conjoined 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 with their own and life's contradictions; or have chosen to put them mentally to one side, anyway. For the rest of us, it's not quite so easy or clear-cut. And 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 own relationship with Gothic has changed over the years. Being a Christian has made a great impact. Coming to see the Christian path as a constant war against the deathliness of this fallen world has set me more on guard against the deathliness within myself these days. Since being ordained I've come across quite enough very real pain, distress, and sadness to make the light rather more appealing, too. Gothic is not my business anymore: that's promoting rather 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 come across.

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.
LGMG visit to Nunhead CemeteryHow 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.
Tanz Macabre at the Arts Theatre Club, SohoTanz Macabre at the Arts Theatre Club, SohoVagabonds at the Liberty Bounds
To 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. 
LGMG meeting at the Bridge Coffee House, ShoreditchWe 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. Perfectly decadent.
Alt B&BAlt B&B
Another 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.
LGMG Goth WalkThe 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.
LGMG Goth Walk 12LGMG Goth Walk 17
LGMG Goth Walk 23LGMG Goth Walk 28
As 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). 
I could 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.Garden Party 2012Garden Party 2012
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