Back in black: Whitby’s Goth Weekend

St Mary's Church and Whitby Abbey stand proud over Whitby at dusk descends.
St Mary's Church and Whitby Abbey stand proud over Whitby at dusk descends.
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As autumn brings out the seaside town’s dark side, the annual Goth weekend can’t be far away. Chris Berry reports.

Mist lingers over Henrietta Street high above Whitby’s east side, that leads to what is an often bleak and windy cliff edge. Terraced housing either side of the narrow, historic lane can make this part of the seaside and seaport town appear as though it is a set from a Victorian melodrama.

Two dark forms appear from one of the former sea captain’s cottages.

One is clad in black from head to toe with knee-length leather boots and laces and buckles a plenty, cape and squashed top hat, there’s a dash of ruffle and a little red satin that comes as part of the package to match the lipstick. This is the male partner.

He’s around six foot three, but probably nearer five foot ten without the heels! It’s going to be murder for him on the cobbles.

His raven-haired partner is dressed in a purple and black bodice and fishnet stockings. Although enjoying the moment, my more fatherly instincts if she were my daughter might be to offer her my coat!

Across the way from where they have appeared come another couple sporting even more black attire replete with laces and buckles. It’s all very bizarre – especially when you hear the odd Yorkshire accent emanating from the figures.

Welcome to Whitby in the autumn – and more specifically to the Whitby Goth Weekend.

It takes place twice a year having started in 1994 thanks to a lady called Jo Hampshire and its next outing is over the weekend of Friday, October 31 to Sunday, November 2. Such has been its success and enduring popularity that the Goths are said to contribute around £1.1m to the town’s economy each year.

Make no bones about it – sorry about that – the legacy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula has helped this become not only the UK’s but also one of the world’s leading Goth events. In fact I’d stake my life on it – there I go again – being here for many more years than its 20th anniversary which it celebrates this coming Hallowe’en weekend.

Over 8,000 visitors are expected for what started life as a live music weekend but has become for many an opportunity to express their dress sense and lifestyle choice.

Black takes over the town and because so many descend on Whitby there is a community spirit amongst them.

The event now encompasses all things alternative, which the layperson may interpret purely as anything wacky and strange.

There is talk of it being all about non-conformity but in reality it’s probably more like one great big club of similarly minded individuals coming together to enjoy themselves and put on clothes they might not get away with on a regular Saturday evening in the centre of Hull, Leeds, Bradford or Sheffield.

It certainly attracts some of the 1980s’ leading electronic pop and new wave stars.

This year’s headliners include Sheffield’s Heaven 17 whose album Penthouse & Pavement was curiously anything but about Goths; Visage who will have to watch that their big hit Fade to Grey isn’t taken as a slur on the dress code; and The Stranglers’ Hugh Cornwell. They will all be appearing in the Spa Pavilion complex in West Cliff. There are far more acts and the live music line-up also includes Fringe events where tribute act Lizzie & The Banshees will be taking the audience back to the days of Siouxsie Sioux.

Today’s Whitby Goth Weekend seems as much about attending the Bizarre Bazaar located in four venues around the town and purchasing new clothing, jewellery, straps, buckles and assorted paraphernalia as it is about the music. Last year the former Brunswick Methodist chapel, a grade 2 listed building and now the Brunswick Centre became host to one of the bazaars.

Oddly enough I too was dressed up here many years ago when wearing a Captain Cook outfit for a Methodist Youth Club event.

It’s not only Goths and their music that enjoys a home at Whitby in the autumn either. The Blues Festival is on today and in a fortnight a real celebration of world music will once again draw in the crowds with the Musicport Festival.

Of course you can also still enjoy Whitby for its history, kippers, sea, sand, abbey, 199 steps, sailing, fishing and its harbour without having to deck yourself out in black.

WHAT’S ON

Saturday October 4: WHITBY BLUES FESTIVAL, Whitby Spa & Pavilion Complex

Saturday October 11: KEEP IT CASH, Whitby Spa & Pavilion Complex.

Friday October 17 – Sunday 19: MUSICPORT FESTIVAL, Whitby Spa & Pavilion Complex

Friday October 31– Sunday, November: 2. WHITBY GOTH WEEKEND, Whitby Spa & Pavilion Complex and all around Whitby.

Friday October 31: HEAVEN 17 & VISAGE, Whitby Spa & Pavilion Complex

Saturday November 1: HUGH CORNWELL, Whitby Spa & Pavilion Complex.