GOTHS ANONYMOUS

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Over the festive period, I managed to find a handful of postings from the blog that was murdered by google;  most of them aren’t really capable of being re-used as I’ve since covered the subject matters in different ways. But this guest contribution from Jacques the Kipper in July 2010 is different……

I was a teenage Goth. I’ve told you this before, I know. But it’s time to get it out of my system once and for all.

I didn’t mean to turn Goth. Sure, I had a penchant in the early 1980s for gloom-ridden songs, but I was also a devotee of Cherry Red, Postcard, ABC and much much more. I think the problem really began with Echo and The Bunnymen. Or more specifically Ian McCulloch. I’d worn my fringe like Roger McGuinn for a while and, to be honest, it was getting on my nerves. Well, to be honestly honest, I couldn’t bloody see. I needed a change and something based on McCulloch’s spikey barnet of the time seemed a better bet. The die was cast.

Being a bit thrawn, and wanting to avoid accusations of merely copying the (his own definition) “great” man, I began with basic spiking of my fringe, the rest remaining combed down. I soon got bored of that and the spikes spread back to my crown. In those days my hair was pretty thick so fairly quickly it grew into something that would test the bravest of any Disney prince seeking out his Sleeping Beauty within.

Meantime I had moved to the Big City. These were impressionable days and, even sporting a fairly standard spikey top, I was considered pretty weird on my accountancy course. To be fair, on that course, if you’d ever had (in fact, if you’d ever thought about) sex, then you were considered weird. The only vital statistics my fellow students cared about related to their balance sheets. And, just for the record, I don’t know why I was there as I’d never touched an accountancy book before – come to think of it, I don’t think I did during the “year” I was on the course. The only redeeming factor was it was many miles from Home Town and I got a grant for not attending any classes.

Instead I spent the time perfecting the art of backcombing, frequenting pubs, taking in gigs of all shapes and sizes, and meeting a whole range of people who didn’t want to be accountants.

Time passed, the Uni got wise and booted me out, and, but for the odd (sometimes very odd) self inflicted hacking, the hair got longer, the black tight jeans became the only jeans, the long black coat affixed itself permanently to my shoulders, eye liner became essential, lipstick a requirement for going out and, at a time of mass unemployment and conservatism among the masses, I became unemployed and unemployable – one of Maggie’s millions.

We were lucky though – we had a city centre tenement flat, previously frequented by a certain Paul Haig, that was cheap as chips and housing benefit to pay it. Other benefits from the “Buroo” weren’t great but enough, with a bit of blagging and being known about town, to survive on. Fully signed up to the Goth Convention, we even spent most of the day asleep. My flat mate, and this is true, put a wardrobe on the floor and slept in it. We even shared a room for a while – me on a mattress on the floor, he in his wardrobe. A real talking point when either or, worse, both of us brought a woman home.

Early evening we utilised the long thin zigzag corridor for epic games of indoor football. Stopping only when a prolonged flurry of close range tackling ended in our hair becoming interlocked. (In many ways, I think we were fore-runners of the bizarre hairstyles of today’s professional game.) Later evening we would head out, seeking out free access and (very) cheap drink.

Our kitchen floor became a legendary stopping place for a range of fellow punks and Goths we happened to bump into of an evening. I can think of Falkirk, Dunfermline, Grangemouth, Cumbernauld and East Kilbride to name but a few towns who sent pioneers to the Big City, with no means of return after midnight. We would happen to meet them in a bar, a club, or even in a couple of cases the street, and invite them back for the night. A student friend, who stayed with us for a short while, used to talk of getting up early for uni, and wandering into the kitchen, always wondering what mass of hair and flesh might await. More often than not he’d tiptoe through the variously studded bodies, belts, bracelets and buckles, make his coffee and be off without anyone stirring.

But, you ask, did I embrace the musical darkside? Well, yes and no. Student indie discos were seen by the hard-core as too mainstream. We enjoyed (some might say with the benefit of hindsight, endured) club nights where the combination of limited lighting, dry ice, alcoves and most folk dressed in black with long hair meant when you hit the floor for a bop to Einstürzende Neubauten, you couldn’t find your friends again.

Yes, of course, I went to see the Sisters of Mercy, and in their pomp they were fantastic live. They were king for me at the time, but let’s not forget the likes of Xmal Deutschland, Alien Sex Fiend, Flesh for Lulu, And Also the Trees, The Danse Society, Sex Gang Children, Skeletal Family and, of course, my wardrobe mate’s faves – Virgin Prunes.

The (Southern) (Death) Cult didn’t really count but I have to acknowledge that live they were the Guns ‘n’ Roses of their day, and always entertaining. We even got on their guest list due to support band Balaam and the Angel ending up on our floor one night. But all that didn’t stop me at the time also seeing among others The Smiths, Billy Bragg, Daintees, James and even the likes of Bronski Beat.

I’m not claiming for a second that all of those black acts listed above are, or indeed were at the time, any good. Just, that they were part of my Gothhood. In fact, given my financial position at the time, I bought few records. So perhaps thankfully there is little legacy in my collection.

But being a Goth was great and I don’t regret a minute. At its crowning glory my hair was over a foot long and, when backcombed, which it pretty much always was, no doubt a bizarre sight. I’m not sure what it would take in this modern age to get the same level of reaction that we used to suffer.

There were bad bits. I was banned from pubs I’d never been in, including one or two where I was due to meet people (lesson one: in a time before mobiles, meet outside). I was threatened several times and, notably, beaten up only three hours after arriving in Rural Fife Town – how to make an impression on your already doubting new girlfriend’s parents- “Er….have you got anything in the freezer I can put on my eye?” I was spat on. I was stoned by wee kids in the Other Big City – they’re probably playing for Celtic now – and many people crossed the road to avoid me. I never made it to the Batcave. I never met a real vampire, though I knew one or two who thought they were. And, when it rained……disaster!

But there were many more good bits.

The camaraderie among fellow Goths (I’m deliberately forgetting the cliqueishness and hair-envy here), especially when you met counterparts in other towns.

Getting your photo taken by tourists (what did they say when that slide came up back in Canada?) – I was even painted twice.

Being the last person anyone would sit next to on the bus or train. (Note, though the other side of this is that, invariably, that last person is either a complete psycho, hopelessly drunk, or both. Some day I’ll tell you about the Hells Angels, the bottle of Smirnoff and the shotgun.)

Being known as Eraserhead.

Being offered various roles in various bands despite a complete lack of singing and musical ability.

Being on first name terms with punk legend Wattie, albeit he called me Mac and I called him, er, Wattie.

Sitting next to a woman with a toddler on her knee on the bus from Dunfermline, the toddler grinning and calling me “Daddy”, me smiling back, the woman clearly fearing I might eat her child at any time.

The Punks Picnic – how funny to see Goths sunbathing.

Introducing a friend to his future wife at a Cult gig.

The banter on the football terraces terraces (remember them?) in a time before satellite tv (remember then?) – “Hey, pal, can you get Channel 4 on that?”.

Dancing in the dark.

There were many misconceptions about our tribe. Depending on who you asked, and being frank, most folk didn’t need to be asked, we were any or all of weird, thick, lay-about, junkies, gay or scary. Of course, in some cases that was true, but no more so than any other group of young folk dressing to impress. A lesson learned when I look at the youth of today in their various guises.

Of course, I couldn’t live the dream forever. I could no longer afford the Boots hairspray for one thing. I moved away from the Big City and gradually I found the self inflicted chopping was removing more and more hair. The final cut came at a barbers in the Oily City. The woman asked me twice before removing the final few inches. When she stood back from the mirror and I could once more see myself I was nearly in tears. Not because I could no longer kid myself I was still a Goth, but because, despite what I’d said, she’d taken off far too much and I now looked like a US Marine.

While I made many friends, we drifted apart and few remain from that time. There must though be one or two fellow ex-Goths that I bought a cider and blackcurrant for, who nowadays walk the same corridors of power and attend the same parents nights that I do. Sadly we’ll never recognise one another as the spray, crimpers and in some cases cheap dye have taken their toll and we’ve all lost our hair and cut back on the eye liner. Shame.

But you’re really here for the music. Clearly that’s a problem as I know you’d hate most of the above so I thought I’d just focus on some memories of the time. At least give them one listen and if you want more info then I’ve checked – they’re all on Wikipedia.

mp3 : Exploited – Dead Cities

This reached no 31 in the real charts. Members may have changed but Wattie and the boys still keep up the good fight against fascism and racism. You have to admire 30 years of anarchy and chaos. And for good measure, here’s the b-sides:-

mp3 : Exploited – Hitler’s In The Charts Again
mp3 : Exploited – Class War

Another band surprisingly still with us, though I confess to having no knowledge of their oeuvre post 1985, are this lot:-

mp3 : Alien Sex Fiend – Ignore The Machine

And finally, a real favourite of mine at the time, though I confess it’s only while writing this that I’ve dug out the old stuff. Jim Thirlwell as in your face as ever. A true innovator and inspiration for many of the noiseniks that crossed into the mainstream in the late 80s/early90s.

mp3 : You’ve Got Foetus On Your Breath – Wash It All Off
mp3 : You’ve Got Foetus On Your Breath – Today I Started Slogging Again

And, here’s the link to VV fact fans, Jim T was a latter day pseudonymous member of Orange Juice. Look him out on Rip It Up on TOTP and consider that poppy jangle alongside this. ****

And if you really want to know what I looked like at the time, check out US cult band, The Naked and the Dead on Wikipedia. I may not actually be in the picture but I sure could have been.

Jacques The Kipper, Sunday 25 July 2010

**** JtK is not joking. Frank Want was one of the many other names by which Jim Thirwell was known.

Frank Want was a member of the live line-up of Orange Juice in 83/84 when the band were essentially down to Edwyn Collins and Zeke Manyika for studio purposes.  He played sax on the TOTP appearance JtK refers to.

10 thoughts on “GOTHS ANONYMOUS

  1. As a member of The Naked and the Dead, it’s hilarious to be randomly referenced in this context. 😎

  2. Well, that was a good read! Never went Goth in my day, but I’m glad to say I got a big dose of the English variety during a summer trip to London in 1986. I went out to day one of the Reading Festival and the lineup was The Bolshoi, Doctor and the Medics, March Violets, Balaam and the Angel, The Mission and Killing Joke at the top of the bill. I was only just tall enough to see over the crowd’s hair. It’s amazing to me that Gothism is still alive and well (dead and unwell?). It never seemed to go out of style — tons of kids in malls across the US wearing the uniform, like Viet Cong vampires. Just like the thousands of kids still flying the flannel and sporting liberty spikes like it was 1983. Very fun account, JtK, glad it was reposted.

    What does ‘thrawn’ mean, btw?

  3. Greg – never did I think I’d now be searching out the Naked and the Dead’s Facebook page. Brilliant.

  4. Sorry, JTFL. In this sense I meant – not wanting to do what would have been seen as the conventional or obvious thing.

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