Thursday, 5 November 2009

My 2009 Whitby Gothic Experience

Perhaps I am not the best person to comment on the Whitby Gothic Weekends.  I have attended the October occasions (there are ones in April too) now for two years running, but in both cases I have been working on a stall so have spent my days busily selling people stuff and the evenings falling asleep very early, so missing out on the broader experience, in particular the bands and cabaret.  However, being in one of the prime trading venues of the weekends, I do get to see a large portion of the people attending.  I also pop out to get fish & chips and so do get the chance to see something you are unlikely to see anywhere else, which is a town which (even if for three days) appears to have a population which in the main is Goth.  Of course, that is just the Goth visitors (and there are others notably caravan enthusiasts but they are often indistinguishable from the resident population) laid on top of the people who live there the rest of the year.  This fantasy is made more realistic by the age range of Goths at Whitby, you can see every age from Goth babies to Goth elderly people.  I think for a Goth you never feel anywhere as at home as in Whitby over these few days.

I was told by locals that more people attended than ever before.  I have no way to judge the accuracy of that, but it was certainly well attended.  Sunny weather on the Friday and Saturday meant it was easier to promenade in your full glory.  Sunday morning had very heavy rain and winds remained strong in the afternoon even when the sun came out.  However, the reasonable weather (in contrast to the hail that lashed me as I unloaded last year) helped bring things alive, though I have to sympathise with the leatherwear trader who has a tent outside the leisure centre which blew away.

Looking around Whitby you would have the feeling that Gothic culture is alive and well.  Though there are always people you have seen before, it is very heartening that there always seem to be people for who are coming to the event for the first time.  In addition, it is good to see in this age when chav culture seems so dominant among young people that there are Goth teenagers, there is another generation following on behind us, we are not the last.

Goths tend to be well off and they save up for the Whitby Gothic Weekend and this may counteract any damage that the recession is doing to the sale of Goth items.  Sales seemed no less vigorous than last year (on the stall I worked on, in fact much better).  The range of items always seems to expand and this year I saw Gothic style collars for cats and dogs as a new area.  Clothing is obviously an important part of the business as is jewellery but it is good to see Gothic artwork around too in terms of pictures and sculptures.  The number of Goth bands releasing both CDs and DVDs seemed undiminished.  Though I did not get to it, I noted that there was a Goth wedding fair on.  I know that Goth styling is leaking into muggle wedding styling too, so it is nice to see that we can make a proper claim from where it came from, because, of course, Goths are romantic and Romantic and a lot of muggle couples could learn from the intimacy, the passion and the caring that you see in many Goth relationships.

One of the highlights of attending the Whitby Goth Weekend is to see the outfits that people are wearing and the range was certainly impressive once again.  Clearly black is the dominant colour, but this year dark green, especially on some Victorian dresses and some jewellery was making an appearance.   After a brief appearance in mainstream fashion a couple of years back, it was probably not surprising to see numerous fascinators on show, not least, as one woman told me, they stay in place in better in high winds than standard hats.  I also noted that there was more 18th century garb alongside the more usual 19th century outfits, many of which, especially on the women, were stunning.  Talking with wearers, it is clear that many make their own outfits and it is good to see that the Gothic culture is keeping alive such skills.  I doubt you will attend many events where people are working with sewing machines on their stalls, these days.  Of course, the spectrum is wide, and at one end you have the futuristic techno outfits and there did seem to be more gas masks apparent than before, giving a truly alien appearance to the wearers.  At the other end is the 18th century stylings.  Whilst tricorns are far from rivalling top hats, they did seem more numerous than last year with long coats, waistcoats and breecher to match; as a adjunct there were quite a few Jack Sparrow-styled men.  This may be an area for expansion for Gothic culture in the coming years.  Steampunk has been growing in significance among Gothic culture.  In the USA it is large enough to be having its own events, but in the UK it comes in alongside the 18th centuryers.  The distinction tends to be that the leather is brown rather than black and with ubiquitous brass goggles.  Paired couples in complementing steampunk outfits were quite numerous; stunning were various steampunk 'angels' wearing folding metal wings, some stretching a metre above their heads.  Not easy to manoeuvre in a busy trading area but impressive all the same; apparently they were made by people local to North Yorkshire.

There were some other notable outfits worn by men.  In particular, an excellent Blade, the only black person I saw attending the event.  The swirls cut into his hair combined with the shades and especially the armoured waistcoat really brought it to life.  Of course, these days in the UK even replica guns and swords are out.  I saw a larger than life Beetlejuice, for those of you too young, check out 'Beetlejuice' (1988) of course directed by Tim Burton and starrring Michael Keaton as the eponymous annoying, jester-like ghost, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis and a young Winona Ryder.  Apparently for some reason the costume is back in fashion for mainstream dressing up but a Goth produced a great home produced version.  Rather leftfield, but impressive still was the Malchik or Droog from 'A Clockwork Orange' (novel 1962; movie 1971 which provides the costume details) in a kind of longjohns and bowler hat.  I have clearly been missing trends in costumes as again there seems to have been an explosion in such attire, even Drac-in-a-Box sells the bowlers now.  I guess people are raiding every corner of culture over the past 300 years for new outfits.  I suppose men find it harder than women to find something distinctive.  Anyway, I admired the man who had gone to so much effort at Whitby, down to the single false eyelash, included in the original movie due to a 'wardrobe malfunction' when the other one fell off.

Of course, traders come and go, but it was good to see the bulk of the long-standing ones there.  It was a shame that there was no charity stand as there was last year, but running a stall needs a lot of commitment and energy.  I would liked to have seen some literary input.  I know there was a poet trading in the Rifle Club last year, but it would be good if there was an event bringing together Gothic authors and poets.  There might have been one, but I was oblivious to it.  A session of readings and Gothic writers and poets talking about their work would be excellent, though I have heard that the bookshop in town gets rather pestered with such writers wanting book launches there, perhaps another venue could be found.  Crime and romance writers seem to be welcomed in every town, I feel an outlet for the numerous Gothic writers out there would be a real plus.

I heard criticisms that the cabaret had too much burlesque and not enough variety in performers.  Not having seen it myself (by then I was asleep) I cannot comment directly, but imagine it is difficult to find Gothic style performers.  It would be good if the Circus of Horrors or even some of their performers could come to Whitby during the weekend to perfom, but I guess they make enough money playing larger towns and mainstream venues.  Perhaps a Gothic talent show could be instituted.

There was discussion of a new Gothic event in York in July, DV8.  I suppose it depends on the weather, because whilst the winds will be lower, the heat is liable to be higher, rather sticky for Goth outfits.  Saying that, York is a lot easier to reach than Whitby.  You can get from London to York in under 2 hours on the train but the remaining sixty-four kilometres to Whitby can take another hour or more; even driving up from Scarborough, the next nearest town to Whitby, twenty-five kilometres away, can be rather tortuous.  The centre of York has suitably historic streets and the town has numerous hotels, just like Whitby.  The key problem is, in July York has numerous mainstream tourists and the Gothic hordes will be competing with them for hotel rooms and street space.  However, there are insufficient Gothic events in Britain and any addition is all for the good.

I know there has been tension among the different organisers of the Whitby event, but I guess that is inevitable when something has been running since 1994.  I was glad to find that the rumours that a Christian group equating Gothic culture with unChristian viewpoints had tried to book out the venues usually used by the event, such as the Metropole Hotel, were actually unfounded and the non-use of some venues simply came from disagreements with individuals.  However, after what was a very successful year, it seems that the weekend will continue to prosper.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and recommend it to all Goths, book now for 2010.  Hopefully one time I will be able to indulge in more of the events and not simply see all the excitement from behind a stall.

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