Goth City 6: The Vampire Strikes Back. A Reflection.

It’s been a while. Between a 70 hour work week, family life, downtime issues with the BVA host server, plenty of procrastination, a dash of imposter syndrome & a new Elder Scrolls patch it’s been one of those months. Hence why this is over a month later than planned. Life has a habit of getting in the way but that’s ok & I’m all for lemonade when life gives you lemons so we’ll just call this more of a reflection on the event rather than a review and we’re good.

Looking back through the memories as I write I’m reminded, now even more so of what a fabulous & special four days it was. Filled with numerous firsts, from meeting online friends & hanging out with musical heroes in real life for the first time, my first time in Leeds in over 30 years, discovering bands I’d never heard & seeing much loved older ones for the first time too all the way to just feeling like an actual part of the scene for the first time since 1980 something.

Day 1. An Evening of Dark Cabaret.

Goth City 6 was a jam packed box of Gothic & alternative delights, too much for this hoary old Goff to do it all & so I sadly didn’t catch everyone that played & everything that was to be had over the entire four days of the festival; instead I opted to ensure I saw & heard exactly who & what I wanted to, so any omissions in bands or events are simply due to not being there to see or hear it to write about.

Day 1 then of Goth City 6: The Vampire Strikes Back opened with a mixture of poetry, music & comedy – indeed some of the opening acts ticked all 3 of those boxes. Ian FTG, Carlie Martece, AMereKat & host A Short Dark Stranger made us all laugh, think & get in the mood for the weekend ahead . My main reason for being there however was the chance to see a truly special one off performance as part of the opening cabaret night from US Goth Icon Caroline Blind Music. What made it so special I hear you ask? Well for one thing, it’s Caroline Blind! The vocal power behind the 90’s US Trip-Goth sound of Sunshine Blind & the first time in 20 years that Caroline has played the UK.

That in of itself was reason enough to get a ticket & make it one not to miss; add to that the fact that Caroline brought a few friends with her to be the band for the night… & not just any friends either. On lead Guitar – George Earth of mid 90’s Californian monsters of Darkwave – Switchblade Symphony. One of the best rhythm sections on the planet with June Kato of Kato-Earth & Slow fade providing the grooviest of grooves on bass with one of the most unique low end styles I’ve ever seen. Setting the pace & perforating eardrums on the pigskins was Shok of Lost Tapes, Zeitmahl & Red Light District.

Joining them on stage half way through the set was local Leeds & UK Post-Punk/Proto-Goth Rock legend David “Wolfie” Wolfenden of Red Lorry Yellow Lorry (Like many of the founding musicians though, I was reliably informed before the gig by Wolfie himself that the Lorries were never a “Goth” band).

If you’ve ever heard any of Sunshine Blind’s music or Caroline’s more recent debut solo album “The Spell Between” or even the 2021 experimental electronic collaboration with Wolfie “Voidant” – then you know the gorgeous tone & pure power of Caroline’s pipes. I thought I did too. Live however, the talent, tone & power in both the song writing & Caroline’s vocal performance are on another level altogether & it really felt like a privilege just to be there; standing 3 feet from a truly rare & special, likely never to be repeated performance.

In her stage trademark bare feet Caroline effortlessly belted out Sunshine Blind & “Lorries” classics in absolute Rock goddess perfection, sending ripples of goose-bumps throughout the set of originals & covers. Caroline’s haunting rendition of the Lorries 1989 track “Heaven” was simply that…Heavenly!

The set punctuated between every track by rapturous applause from the small but intense crowd was honestly breath-taking. Small, intimate & fucking loud, it went by in a flash; all too soon it was over. I & everyone present however were left with a ridiculously broad grin, a very happy ringing in the ears & a feeling of having witnessed something beautiful, rare & unique. A fabulous starting night of music & people for a weekend of fabulous music & people.

Day 2. The Festival starts proper.

Friday & day 2 was a cracking evening & a scorcher in more ways than one. Left Bank in Leeds is a Grade 2 listed former Church set within its own small but well-tended grounds & whilst a warm sunny evening outside isn’t many Goths’ idea of fun; a night of live music in an old church, with a pulpit DJ booth, purple mood lit vaulted ceilings, a bar, a dry ice machine & a man with a rapier, most certainly is. 

The 1st night proper of Goth City 6 the ex-sacrosanct building saw 3 bands playing: The Way of All Flesh Byronic Sex & Exile and Rome Burns with this date being the start their successful 8 date UK “Triumvirate tour”. A great Gothic venue to start a Gothic Rock tour, Left Bank is a fantastic, relaxed & chilled venue in a beautiful setting. A bit busier than the previous evening & we even had a special guest as even Jesus himself was there watching on from the back with his disco ball. Word is he’s a big fan of Rome Burns. 

Sheffield based 4 piece; The Way of All Flesh opened the proceedings & offered a no frills, no fuss pure belter of a Rock set.  A band that although formed in 2000 took an extended hiatus of about a decade prior to 2018 & I believe until now, had only played a handful of gigs since then. You’d never have known it mind, as for a band I wasn’t particularly familiar with either they rocked my little gothic socks off (Black of course) Their powerful live performance spearheaded by booming vocals & heavy synths was an enlivening start to the night playing a mix of old & new material from the new release “Shotguns & Razorwire” which was released on 8th August. They’ve gained a new fan here. 

Next up, the Byronic-Man himself – Joel Heyes with his tragically romantic & darkly poetic one man & his sabre act – Byronic Sex & Exile. How Joel, who is also the organiser, promoter & go to creator of the whole Goth City festival, finds time to do it all & still look as calm, collected & as dapper as if he’s walked straight out of the 19th century pages of Byron or Bronte is beyond my comprehension. Perhaps the titular vampire of the festival title is Joel himself in fine day walker attire?  Byronic Sex & Exiles’ one-man performance project comes off as so much bigger than just one man & his guitar. Part Gothic Rock gig, part sabre wielding dark cabaret act but 100% all show. The sound too looms so much larger than just one man. On recordings like “Distant Sound of Thunder” that’s certainly the case & sure in the studio if you know what you’re doing, ( & he does) a big sound is easy enough to do. But on a large stage set up, on your own, in the middle of a vaulted nave like this? It’s a pretty damn impressive feat. Perhaps Joel is indeed a vampire as his mesmerizing vocals & stage presence mean you can’t take your eyes off his performance. I’m reminded of the vampiric presences from the Anne Rice novels, except Joel isn’t the blonde flighty Rockstar of Lestat no, more a dark, broody & poetic Armand I feel.

Last Act up & headlining at Left Bank – Rome Burns.  Another first & highly entertaining live showing for me. Rome Burns are the cheeky chappies of the scene, easy & comfortable banter between themselves & the audience throughout their performance. Something that can oft be missing, especially at a “Goff” gig as you know – we’re not all miserable bastards after all & RB proved that point nicely. Vocalist Simon Satori seems every bit the mischievous & impish front man on stage & it comes across both in his lyrics & unique vocal tone & indeed right into the performance itself.  And again, here as with BS&E the stage presence can be palpably felt. These gents know what they’re doing.  The articulate Satori- also immaculately dressed – is like a freak circus Ringmaster or a Gothic Pied Piper with a manic spark in the eye & a dark sense of humour, leading the crowd as much as the musically tight & melodically intriguing band. Whether Jesus is actually fan or not is probably up for debate but I, I most definitely am. 

Day 3. It’s getting hot in here!

Another un-Gothically warm day requiring copious amounts of liquid refreshment in-between sets, the Saturday of GC6  was fittingly a game of 2 halves, flitting between the very bo-ho Wharf Chambers & the grittier Temple of Boom stages. The first band we caught at Wharf Chambers were John Merrick’s Remains. On the South Yorkshire Duo’s website, the bio states “if you aint seen em live, you aint seen nothing!!!!!!!!!!”. Believe it or not, that’s an understatement as despite the heat in the small low ceilinged venue Bob & Jools were in their trademark “Elephant Man” sack hoods & delivered an anarchic, electronic Punk as Fuck freight train performance. Their expertly & cunningly crafted style of electronica is indeed a “must see” live. Complex & atmospheric, dark & tragically beautiful one minute then chaotic & frenetically frenzied the next, with Jools ending the set off stage & on the dancefloor writhing on his back in front of the crowd. I’ve definitely seen & heard “something” now.   

A quick run to the bar for hydration purposes of course & it was back in for a band I’ve wanted to see live for a long time now and that was Last July. I know you shouldn’t be happy when another band drops out but I was truly glad that Last July got the chance to step in.
Not least because Dvae Stanton’s an old hometown buddy & was a fellow regular in one of the seediest but coolest alternative dive pubs west of London in the heady days of the late 80’s. But because their unique approach makes them a super catchy, dark & light mix of Goth, Rock, Electronica and Pop & it just makes you want to dance and join in.  Like all the bands not headlining it was only a 30-minute set – meaning it was sadly all over before we knew it & so didn’t hear anywhere near enough of their highly danceable, multi-layered, beautifully written & intelligently put together songs. Especially missed 2 of my favourite Last July tracks I’d have loved to hear live; the ridiculously catchy “True Story of a Lie” & their bangin’ cover of Front 242’s “Head-hunter”- Short set or no they still whipped the loyal crowd up & proper knocked it out of the park with everyone dancing their winkle-pickered feet off & giving forth rousing cheers every time  Alixandrea Corvyn played a note on “Aurora” & no, that’s not a song title but the name of Alix’s keytar.  A duo at present – the husband & wife team are both highly experienced & talented musicians with Dvae moving out from behind his usual keyboards & programming to learn guitars for the band in literally just a couple of weeks & Alix being easily one of the best vocalists in the UK scene with bigger vocal balls than most & a power, range & tone you’d happily die for, or to. 

A quick Uber to Boom in the company of my gig buddy for the weekend Caroline Blind, and it was straight into Westenra and Holy Fuck what a performance that was. I had known from the debut LP “First Light” that they were a band I loved & are a band that will be going places, but live, the Whitby based 3 piece of Lucy Danby on Vox. Dominique Renard on Bass and Carl Graham on  Guitars showed they’ve got the showmanship & charisma to go with the musicianship and then some. I’ve seen many a band over the years & love it when they surpass the recorded versions in a live setting. Lucy’s vocals, already something unique, interesting & moreishly listenable are transformed in the live setting where performance & vocal meet & create something akin to black magic; a hypnotic & spellbinding presence that I’ve not felt in…well, let’s say the last time was a Creatures show.  The rest of the band are equally engaging with Carl’s classic jangly & ethereal Gothic Rock guitar sound, sweeping out in gorgeous progression waves from the stage & Dominique’s subtle arpeggiated chords that fill in all the gaps & lock in with the electronic drum heartbeat of the band.  In look, sound & delivery, Westenra are every ounce the archetypal Gothic Rock band of Goths, making music for Goths. 

Then lastly, even as the heat outside cooled, it was getting hot n sweaty inside for Saturday night headliners on the Boom stage – Rhombus. Probably one of the biggest crowds yet. Rhombus drew in the Goths like moths to a flame & there was little room & even less air, but everyone was there for the same reason; the stunning harmonies of bassist & vocalist Edward Grassby & Alixfest patron herself once again Alixandrea Corvyn making her 3rd appearance in 2 days no less.  
One of my favourite musical things that’s usually reserved for pop or Symphonic metal & rarely gets an airing in Goth/alt Rock circles -  is a male & female vocal/harmony – of which both Ed & Alix are masters of. This gives Rhombus a unique vocal sound and gives Rhombus a subtle beauty to their music that few other bands in the genre possess.  And as much as I’m a sucker for the processed beats of a good old TR808 or a DMX it was good to hear (and literally feel in your nether regions) a real drummer. No Linndrum in the world can put out the power & feeling of a real kit and drummer and so it was definitely a case of Boom, shake, shake, shake the room at Boom. With Alix in silver Angel wings & a cameo by our very own Byronic hero it was a perfect end to the penultimate night.

Day 4. All Good Things

The Final night then & whilst it meant missing The Webb at Wharf Chambers, I opted to go straight to Boom on the Sunday night as one of my current & indeed all-time favourites were playing, that being the most excellent lads of Chaos Bleak & didn’t want to risk missing even a minute of their set.   
The opening band on the Boom stage were, I’ll admit a band that I didn’t know & to my chagrin had remissly passed me by, so had no idea what to expect. 
Seeing bands that you know & love, live for the first time is a very special & intimate thing & I’d been spoiled with numerous special moments already over the weekend & another to come. However, discovering a band live for the first time; in their natural dark & smoky habitat, one that you’ve never even heard of & so have no idea what to expect is always a thrilling gamble; a gamble that for me, in this instance, paid off big!  
Within a single measure Deathtrippers had hit me in the musical feels with a unique but oh so familiar sound & made a new lifelong fan right there & then.  
Imagine if you will, that the Mary Chain & the Mish decided hook up & collaborate with The House Of Love & halfway through recording, Loop gate-crash the studio, smash the doors in with some hypnotic, basslines & a big fat bag of psychedelics. Their sound is like nothing else out there & yet is also achingly indicative of everything alternative & cool from the late 70’s to the 90’s. From Post-Punk to Goth to psychedelia & Madchester indie, Deathtrippers have it all,. Music to get wasted to & I fell in love with it on the spot.  

Wearing Rock n Roll swagger & an electro acoustic 12 string with ease & oozing cool Goth Rock star detachment, singer Sasha Raoul’s delivery is bang on, despite the cramped stage & hotter than hell atmosphere. My fetish with other bassists continues as young bassist Oliver T’s driving, hypnotic, almost trance inducing grooves on his sexy as fuck matte black Thunderbird coupled with the best hairdo of the weekend had me transfixed. (Don’t judge me, we’re all goffs here & rather partial to a good hairdo!) With gorgeous bouncing synths & psychedelic guitar riffs filling every gap in layer upon layer of sound it was the best trip I’ve had in a long time.  
This was great music doing exactly what great music does best – transporting the listener outside of themselves. Music that paints emotions in sound, releasing all the happy chemicals that just make you feel better just for the hearing of it.

Next into the musical fray – Chaos Bleak: A band I and my stereo & by default- my neighbours know well. Personally, I love them to fucking bits, can’t speak for the neighbour’s mind.  Seeing CB live was yet another band cherry that needed popping & unlike that long ago real one it wasn’t in the least disappointing or embarrassing. No, this was good, really fucking good! It wasn’t a just gentle pop either. This was hard n hot & definitely some of the best live aural sex I’ve ever had.

Masters of their craft with decades of experience & it shows.  All 3 of the Nottingham based musicians are a UK Gothic Rock leg-end in their own right & Chaos Bleak, not that they’d say so them selves could easily be considered a Gothic Rock “super-group” of sorts. Founder, guitarist & programmer for CB Trevor Bamford, who is in the middle of writing his Phd doctorate on the UK Goth scene has been a staple of that scene himself since its creation & he’s not alone. In fact, along with Trevor, Singer & lyricist Piers De Mison & Bassist Justin Walker have, between them been in more cult UK Goth bands than you can shake a patchouli scented joss stick at.  

Hotter than Hades inside and outside the Boom stage already. Chaos Bleak’s frenetic 30-minute set stoked the heat further with a blistering performance that was a hard, heavy knee trembler that left me breathless, sweaty, smiling from ear to bleeding ear and begging for more. The noise & presence these 3 gentlemen generate on stage belies their polite, softly well-spoken selves & is truly something to behold. A loud, bass heavy, guitar heavy, riff laden set with intelligent, socially aware lyrics that make the listener think as well as head-bang. Starting with “Beneath The Moon” followed by one of my favourites “Grey Lady Walks” With Piers coming out into the crowd for a wander among us as he sang and Justin doing his super heavy, hood up, shades on, finger gymnastics on the bass, the set was incendiary going full on ballistic for poignant headbanger “Dress The Kids For War”. By the end of the set, which ended on a belter of a cover of Killing Joke’sRequiem” from their eponymous 1980 debut, I was hot & sweaty, neck-sore & in dire need of a pint but felt lighter (though that could have just been the several lbs I lost in sweat), happier & more content than I have in a long while; for me at least it was a true highlight among a weekend of highlights. 

Final act of the weekend & headliners on this last night were Rose of Avalanche. A band to be honest on record that really isn’t my musical floatation device. I only caught about the first half of the set but what I did see & hear was a testament indeed to their experience & talent, not least of which to me was bassist Darren Horner’s thumping basslines on his Rick’ that you could literally feel in my bones as it arpeggiated down my spine. As was due their headline status the venue was now rammed to the gunnels & was extremely warm so I cut outside to hang, chat & cool me down some. Like I say, on record I’m not a “fan” as such & that’s ok as music is as always subjective to the listener. What I will say, is that Live they demonstrate with practiced and experienced ease just why they were the headliner here and why they’ve had a career spanning 40 years: And why their true fans love them. That simple fact is that Rose of Avalanche are Pure 100% Rock n fucking Roll. 

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