Moody, angular and more often than not clad in black and wreathed in dry ice, gothic rock was a musical subculture that first entered the popular consciousness in the early 1980s.
Inspired by post-punk, David Bowie, the Velvet Underground, German experimental bands and the harsh industrial electronic sounds of Hull’s Throbbing Gristle, groups with gothic associations could be found across the country but alongside the London nightclub The Batcave the movement seemed to cast its longest shadow across Yorkshire’s towns and cities.
This month a new five-CD box set, Silhouettes & Statues, commemorates the ‘Gothic revolution’ from its outset in 1978 to its commercial zenith in 1986 when several of its key players were appearing on Top of the Pops.
The biggest of them all, the Sisters of Mercy, might be wary of the gothic tag, preferring to be thought of as a simply a rock and roll band, but the group, who were founded by Leeds University students Andrew Eldritch and Gary Marx in 1980 are nonetheless represented by the song Floorshow.
Also formed at Leeds University a year later were The March Violets, who went on to release their first two singles on Eldritch’s record label, Merciful Release. Eldritch also produced the Girlsoul EP by Leeds band Salvation, while another group from the city, The Rose of Avalanche, issued their goth classics LA Rain and Goddess on the Leeds Independent Label before moving to London-based Fire Records.
In Bradford, singer Ian Astbury made his first musical strides in the Southern Death Cult, a short-lived group whose ranks also included ‘Aky’ Qureshi, later of provocative hip-hop group Fun-Da-Mental. Huddersfield native Tim Bricheno was to find fame as guitarist in All About Eve, who scored a top ten hit with the folk-influenced ballad Martha’s Harbour.
1919, from Bradford, were for a time signed to Red Rhino, the York-based indie label who also released early records by Leeds band Red Lorry Yellow Lorry and Skeletal Family, from Keighley.
Skeletal Family bass player Roger ‘Trotwood’ Nowell, remembers a division between southern bands and those from Yorkshire. “Back in those days it was Specimen, Alien Sex Fiend, Christian Death – they’re goth bands. Sisters, Sex Gang [Children], Death Cult, us, we were like ‘we’re not goth bands’. Strangely enough we all dressed in black, spiked our hair and had names like Death Cult, Sex Gang, UK Decay – it was a no-brainer why the press started lumping us all in together as goth.”
In an interview with The Yorkshire Post last year Wayne Hussey, who played guitar in the Sisters of Mercy from 1984-85 before forming 80s chart regulars The Mission with fellow Sister Craig Adams, remembered being equally reluctant to be associated with the goth tag back in the 1980s.
“Like many bands starting out in the second half of the 80s it was not that we fought against it but I think we thought it would limit our potential to be branded as a goth band,” he said.
“You know, it’s just a name. Now I really don’t care, to be honest. It’s probably one of the better things we’ve been called. I really don’t mind. And to be fair, the audience has been so very loyal to us it’s fine with me.”
Today he’s so relaxed about the tag that he and the band have played at Whitby Goth Festival a number of times. “So I’m kind of tarred and feathered with the whole thing,” he joked.
As for Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, guitarist Dave Wolfenden says he saw the band inspired by the energy of MC5 and The Clash. “It was very much the rawness and spontaneity, a band playing a gig like its life depended on it and that it was the last gig they would ever do. That was the brief really for Lorries’ gigs and we really went for it.”
South Yorkshire was also touched by the hand of goth too. Chief among them was Clock DVA, an experimental electro-acoustic outfit formed in Sheffield in 1978 by Adi Newton and Steven ‘Judd’ Turner. Newton had originally been a member of The Future, another electronic group featuring Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, later of The Human League and Heaven 17.
Clock DVA’s track on Silhouettes and Statues, The Female Mirror, comes from one of five cassette-only albums that the band made before signing to Throbbing Gristle’s Industrial Records in 1980. “At that point it was a way of focusing tracks into a kind of way, conceptualising them as pieces,” Newton recalls. “They were very limited, it was more for our own purpose than an enterprise to make any money.”
Newton cites the Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop and Kraftwerk as significant influences. “We were listening to Kraftwerk and things like that, early things from German material, especially things from Roedelius and Moebius. When you’re developing ideas you’re essentially creating music which you like yourself, you can’t hear it anywhere else. It’s an expression of your ideas and cathartic.
“I suppose looking at it historically, different strands and connections from different eras and textures from these different influences can be seen in there. A lot of this stuff we were working on then was very intuitive, we felt the thing and that came through in what we were doing, so it was more of an energy and intuitive magic, pulling in these strands and ideas and modifying them into our own unique assemblages.”
Another band featured on Silhouettes and Statues is Folk Devils. Their blend of post-punk and swamp rock might have hailed from Notting Hill, rather than Knottingley, but they were not without connections to the Yorkshire goth scene.
“We shared offices for example with the Sisters of Mercy back in the mid-80s so there was an overlap,” says guitarist Kris Jozajtis. “We’d gone to The Batcave – the club – and all that kind of stuff just as goth was starting out as its own niche, but I think we were much more of a rock ’n’ roll band, we were a bit more hooligan-istic.
“We didn’t fit in anywhere. In some way commercially I think that affected us – we sort of tapped into something but we were difficult to market. We played with the Sisters of Mercy and some of the other bands at the time, so there was an overlap, but I think we were more of a rock ’n’ roll band than anything else.”
Silhouettes & Statues: a Gothic Revolution 1978-1986 is out now on Cherry Red Records. www.cherryred.co.uk
Folk Devils and Inca Babies play at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds on July 20. www.brudenellsocialclub.co.uk/whats-on/folk-devils-inca-babies/
The Mission will be performing with Alice Cooper and The Tubes at First Direct Arena, Leeds on November 11.
For more on Skeletal Family visit www.skeletalfamily.com.
The Red Lorry Yellow Lorry box set Albums and Singles 1982-89 is out now. https://www.facebook.com/rlylofficial/
Clock DVA are due to release a 12in vinyl EP later this year; their back catalogue of albums is also due to be re-released by Mute Records. www.facebook.com/Clock-DVA-57909220995/