For 50 weekends of the year Whitby is a picturesque seaside town frequented mostly by elderly holidaymakers and hikers looking to explore the dramatic North Yorkshire coastline; but for the other 2, thousands of Goths and other alternative people from all over the UK descend for the bi-yearly Whitby Goth Weekend, a festival now in its nineteenth year. Whitby Goth Weekend includes an enormous Gothic bazar where festival goers can purchase clothing, home wares, music and other items during the days, and then in the evening, a selection of some of the best and brightest alternative bands perform. The festival can certainly be a wonderful spectacle for onlookers, with many festival goers dressed in anything from beautiful silk Victoriana to intricate corsetry or even outfits made entirely from PVC and leather. However, although respectful observers are welcomed, WGW is definitely a festival run for the alternative community, by the alternative community and provides an important opportunity for many people to be able to embrace a full gothic style in a tolerant and inclusive environment.
The festival’s ethos is one that encourages people to be themselves and this is reflected in the bands that were chosen to perform on the Friday of this November’s event, all 4 of whom are well known for having unusual and often theatrical visuals to match their music. The first band of the evening were Huddersfield based Bad Pollyanna who serve up a potent cocktail of industrial-tinged symphonic metal and electronica. Vocalist Olivia Hyde has an engaging stage presence and the rest of the band are talented musicians, together they provided a polished live performance that really grabbed the audience’s attention. The highlight of their set was an emotional rendition of ‘Epilogue (Invincible Girl)’ dedicated to all their fans and to the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, a charity set up to spread a message of tolerance towards after Sophie was beaten to death for the way she dressed. It’s a cause close to the hearts of many of the festival’s attendees, and there’s scarcely a dry eye in the house after Bad Pollyanna finish performing.
Next on the bill were Ashestoangels, a goth punk band from Bristol, who exploded onto the stage as if they’d been shot out of a cannon. Where Bad Pollyanna brought heartfelt emotion to the stage, these boys brought utter insanity. Lead singer Crilly spent more time in the audience that he did on the stage, seemingly diving into the crowd and cartwheeling along the front of the stage at least once per song, while guitarist Falkor and bassist Nico raced all over the stage, working the already hysterical crowd into ever greater frenzies and trying (and failing) not to collide with one another. Ashes are completely compelling live band for the simple reason that they always teeter on the edge of lunacy, but manage to avoid collapsing into anarchy, even when Crilly has to dive into the crowd once more to rescue a very confused small child from an impending wall of death.
The penultimate band of the night were Fearless Vampire Killers, a band known for their theatrical gothic image and brand of anthemic punk rock. Their unusual image can often make FVK a bit of an anomaly on most festival stages and it’s lovely to see them performing somewhere that’s such an excellent fit for them. They got a massive reaction from the crowd and seemed to feed off the energy in the room, turning in a performance they can comfortably rank as one of their best ever.
Friday’s headliner was the inimitable William Control, a man often called ‘The Gothfather’. It may be a slightly cheesy name, but you can certainly tell where the nickname came from watching him on stage. He possesses a completely commanding stage presence, seemingly calculated to make the entire audience fall a little bit in love with him. He slams out all of his hits, including ‘Beautiful Loser’, ‘Strangers’ and ‘Kiss Me Judas’, as well as a new track from his upcoming album Neuromancer, each song a sleazy slice of dark electro perfection. Overall, every band that played on Friday evening gave performances they could be proud of, with Ashestoangels and FVK both turning in career-defining shows full of incredible energy and fire, even if they both have a little way to go before they can match the sheer force and magnetism of William Control’s elemental stage presence.
Whitby Goth Festival is unique experience in many ways, it welcomes both bands and punters that tend to not fit in terribly well at other events, and has a general atmosphere of tolerance and respect that many events of this kind can often lack. It’s also a true all ages festival, with all ages from children to pensioners represented, possibly because the emphasis is placed on a whole lifestyle rather than just the music. Certainly, it’s not something that would be for everyone, you really need to enjoy dressing up and getting fancy to get the most out of the experience, and if your idea of a good time is getting inhumanly drunk in a muddy field to the strains of Rihanna or Beyoncé then Whitby probably isn’t going to be your cup of tea. However, if you can keep a bit of an open mind, fancy seeing some slightly different acts and don’t mind getting fully into the spirit of the occasion, then it could well be one of the most enjoyable weekends you have all year.