The Birth And Subsequent Death Of Goth: A History
For all of humanity’s greatness—the pyramids, the Hoover Dam, our capacity to love—human beings have proven ourselves quite capable of doing truly disgusting things. Waging wars, acting upon greed, not to mention wearing those godforsaken toe shoes. In an effort to build a more just, rational, and aesthetically pleasing future, in a series of pieces for the good ship Ran$om Note I’m going to be looking at some of the mainly music led fashion tribes that have dominated the UK’s subcultures.
We’ll be ignoring the 18th and 19th Century dandies, who also revelled in the strictures of ‘correct’ attire, or plumped for flamboyant, decadent dress, with a hint of gender confusion thrown in for good measure and concentrating on the latter half of the 20th Century when the sartorial descendants of Beau Brummel and his ilk began to come in waves every few years. In the 1950s Teds came along, resurrecting the Edwardian drape coats that gave them their name (a look to be revived later in the 70s, filtered through Glam, or in its original form). The 1960s belonged to Mods, who morphed into both the Skin and Suedeheads, and saw their sharp-suited tastes perennially revived. Even Punk, whatever the protagonists might say about DIY, post-Winter of Discontent rage and anarchy, was a fashion movement first and foremost: just ask Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm MacLaren.
Today though we’ll be focusing on the 80’s and every parent’s nightmare…. the Goth!
It was on a dull autumn night in 1981 I’m told, that a semi-professional Wayne Hussey look-a-like called into a certain busy nightclub in Newcastle city centre to raise a glass after attending the funeral of a vagrant he’d met during his visits to the South Sheilds ferry terminal. Looking dapper in the oversized black overcoat that he had purchased enthusiastically from Phase the previous afternoon and the battered hobnailed boots (that he had swapped with the corpsey gravedigger at the aforementioned paraffin’s send off that very day for his all too conventional Ravel brogues), he tightly gripped his plastic glass of cider before toasting the transients (lack of) health.
While grinning to himself and remembering the good times spent down the dock with his pal, he caught a glimpse of his reflection in a grubby mirror and suddenly imagined adding an array of bondage inspired chainware to his new gotten garms. He amused himself at the antics of the people around him, prancing as though they had removed their shoes and were dancing on broken glass, or shatter proof plastic as was in this case.
Little did he know it, but this excursion amongst the brightly coloured New Romantic revellers of Rockshots would change them forever. For they regarded his look with as much excitement and confusion as he had theirs! They were about to literally enter the dark ages, with weirdos far and wide beginning to dress like professional mourners on a 24/7 basis! As Chant #1 spun on the deck, suddenly everyone began to struggle with the issue of why everyone had up until then preferred trainers to grave digging/navvy footwear and,,,, just where were their lives leading?
Immediately, sales at clothes shops like Phaze and Kard Bar frequented by the North Easts wannabe Blitz Kids plummeted as the leather Biggles jacket, tailored trouser and Breton stripes were discarded for the trench coat and black chunky knit jumper. The manager of the cities Army and Navy flagship store contemplated a Wall Street Crash style suicide bid due to poor sales of newly acquired Italian Combat jackets by jumping from the balcony in area of the shop that housed the ex-battle dress surplus. The world had gone mad! Many worried as their old mates discarded the Japan, Adam And The Ants and even the ‘Girl Tennis Player Scratching Her Arse’ posters, and painted their whole bedroom, furniture included, black! As shares shot up at Dulux, weary tears appeared in the eyes of the parents of teenagers across the land. Black was the new black and more was yet to come, it was like the Addams Family all over again.
The peacock colours that were the make-up of the new-romantic, which had been favoured for so long were to be ousted and, you guessed it, black make-up was soon to become a necessity. Now a name was needed and soon enough came,,,,, The Goth!
Being unhappy was a must and manic depression was a status symbol. Pitched battles broke out on Grey street in Newcastle as the bespectacled owner of the old charity shop that once traded there, tried in vain to restore calm amongst the weird crowd fighting for what little black clothing remained in stock and only managed to diffuse the situation by mentioning that he had contacts in the house clearance fraternity and that this meant the probability of an abundant stock of dark knitwear only recently vacated by someone’s dead granddad. So shameful was the incident that he felt the need to move his wares further down Grey Street and set up shop down High Bridge Street hoping the matter would soon be forgotten. No such luck though! Still the madness continued as an army of Alice Cooper clones stormed Oxfam and DEMANDED to root through the backroom stock that had yet to be put out on the shop rails by the altruistic staff.
Soon popular culture within the celluloid community was to fall victim. Tim Burton made his name in Hollywood and turned all the characters of his films into black-clad moody types and Wynoda Ryder became the darling of the not too happy brigade with her role in Edward Scissorhands. The world belonged to the Goth…. or so they thought. In the distance though there lurked a danger, one that was to banish the frowning face from this tribe and make Tim Burton introduce more dayglo colours into his work.
It all started one quiet weekday in what was once the other bastion of all things Goth,’Tunnel’. A shop not 50 yards along the road from the aforementioned Oxfam, on the top corner of High Bridge street in the late 1980s. As the shop assistant applied his black eyeliner he suddenly noticed that over the road at a small record shop called ‘Trax’ a lot of vinyl arriving and being played in there was, well, quite boppy! Strange as this sounded to him, he suddenly found himself tapping his foot along to the 4/4 beat. Day in day out this continued for a couple of weeks and before long he couldn’t tell the difference between this squelchy, repetitive music and his beloved Bauhaus and Nephilim records?! He was also smiling much more than he usually did and even dared to iron a smiley face transfer on his favourite black sweatshirt. Soon enough there followed the inevitable influx of tye dye clobber and the inflatable bananas in the front room of his Chillingham Road flat. To to top it all, he went and started to tie his long dark hair in a ponytail. Many of his old crowd worried about this shift in power and insisted that they would continue looking like the Gruesome Twosome driving the Creepy Coupe in Wacky Races no matter what!
Alas, they too would jack it all in and make the head start to happiness and move toward the light and the beat. No more trips to Whitby’s biannual Gothic festival. Draws and bookshelves in flats across Newcastle and the rest of the country we’re raided to reap the untold riches which were to be made by selling 2nd hand Edgar Allen Poe books, broken hair crimpers, henna dye and cheap vampire related tat to other synchronised non-conformity practicing nobs dressed as Ray Reardon in order to fuel a weekend of raving round the clubs and fields of the North East. And as the 80s came to a close, the chapter in world history marked Goth was to close also.
The days of drinking cider and mulled wine with painted nails were over, well and truly over.