The prehistory of goth– Rock Evolution Part 2
In previous blog posts I have sketched out the music scene of mid-seventies Barnsley. I want now to pull together certain themes and people and look beyond mid-decade and the then dominant heavy rock scene to discuss how things developed.
In my novel, Feeling called love, I depicted myself as some visionary early adopter of punk. This is disingenuous- it is the ideal that I would with hindsight like to imagine- but the sadder truth is recounted in my other book, Freak or smoothy? I was listening to the radio, I was reading Sounds and NME, I knew that something was going on- something in the late, hot summer of 1976 that the journalists of the music papers were beginning to get excited about, but I failed totally to appreciate its significance. A paradigm was shifting- and for those of a certain age (teenagers predominantly)- it came to be identified as a major cultural and musical movement. Living in it, though, I was slow to respond. My powers of foresight were poor- although I’ve always enjoyed really excellent hindsight…
During the summer of 1977 I played bass guitar in a three piece whose staples were Status Quo. In spring 1977 I bought the Rumours album by Fleetwood Mac- I loved it- so much so that it never left my turntable and I proudly bought a Fleetwood Mac sweatshirt through the ads pages of Sounds. The queen’s jubilee came and went, God save the queen was banned by Radio One and others, and I remained a dispassionate observer. The pictures from the cover of Freak or smoothy betray the awful truth- cheesecloth shirts, massive flares, massive hair. Barnsley could be a bit of a backwater and some of us were becalmed… Coming from a small town needn’t mean a restricted vision, though. I’ll get on to my Barnsley example shortly, but another one that I’ve written about concerns Dunfermline. My novel, Feeling called love- a teenage obsession, takes me to the Fife town in pursuit of a girl. It’s 1977 and the punk scene is just taking off there- specifically a local youth called Richard Jobson who was alert to current trends and seized his moment with The Skids. Some people, more in tune with the zeitgeist and more ambitious and enterprising than I was, can make things happen for themselves and around themselves.
Barnsley had its first punk gig sometime in early to mid-1977. I can’t recall the band’s name, but such as the hysteria stirred up by that time by the Sex Pistols (swearing at Bill Grundy on tea-time telly- the outrage!) that South Yorkshire police completely overreacted and, when some hippy dropped a pint glass out of the window of the Centenary Rooms atop the Civic Hall, a mass raid to shut the gig down was justified. The worst the punks on stage had done was throw talcum powder over us; but ‘this teen riot had to to be stopped’ etc etc….. Later the same year I appeared on the same stage at the same gig as a local punk band called The Restricted. They weren’t necessarily very good- but I loved their raucous energy and the mike stand made out of a budgie cage, around which the vocalist pogoed- as was his bounden duty.
Some people in the town had sensed that they needed to move with the times- one of them clearly being Paul Gilmartin, drummer for The Restricted. He was not alone. Paul Nash was travelling a similar trajectory- but then, he was the multi-instrumentalist in Nightmare and he was the one who was able to pick up the Son of a Bitch ballad I mentioned in an earlier blog post by carefully watching and listening to the band live.
Returning to previous blog posts, I have recounted my membership of Nightmare and my fraught departure over the love of Melanie. The band carried on for a while, but then the members went their separate ways- an event, I hasten to stress, that was entirely unrelated to their lack of a flute player following my ejection. My old school friend Paul Nash teamed up with his school mate Lyndon Scarfe and planned a new musical venture, based around a shared love of the band Rush. They rehearsed in the suitably gothic environment of Lyndon’s cellar and produced some tapes under the name of Lips-X which increasingly showed the influence of the early Cure singles and of Roxy Music.
Elsewhere in the town Paul Gilmartin had left The Restricted to form, briefly, The Pock Marked Italians. His former band mates in due course coalesced as the Creatures of Habit in the early 1980s. After a while Gilmartin joined Steve Rawlings and others in a band called Y? At some point in 1979/1980 the tapes that Paul and Lyndon had been recording came to the attention of Y? and it was suggested that the two Pauls, Steve and Lyndon unite to created a new band, initially called Dance Crazy and then, subsequently, Danse Society. With this Barnsley produced its major contribution to new wave, to match Saxon and their contribution to the NWOBHM.
Danse Society’s first recorded output was a contribution to the 1980 compilation album, Bouquet of Steel. As the name implies, this mainly featured new bands from Sheffield- and this has led the undiscriminating to carelessly describe them as a Sheffield band. Those of us from South Yorkshire to whom this matters will pedantically and pointedly stress that they are quite different places…
In August 1980 Danse Society played their first ever gig at the Royal Hotel a pub on the very edge of Sheffield. Only month later, on September 13th 1980, Danse Society featured on the bill at the Futurama 2 festival at Queen’s Hall, Leeds. They shared a stage with such august acts as Echo and the Bunnymen, U2, Siouxsie and Soft Cell. It was, perhaps, this event in particular that established the band as a goth act. I know very well that they have always preferred to call themselves ‘post-punk’ and, for those of us for whom geography matters, West Yorkshire is not South Yorkshire. Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield were particular wellsprings of goth- the March Violets, Rose of Avalanche, the Sisters of Mercy, New Model Army, Joolz, etc etc. Perhaps it was those ‘dark satanic mills’ that made them all so gloomy. Danse Society considered themselves different from this, but simple labels have always been attractive to music journalists to classify and summarise.
In line with the do-it-yourself spirit of punk, Danse Society released their first single, Clock, themselves in 1981. The first album, Seduction, reached number 3 in the indie chart in 1982; Heaven is waiting reached number 39 in the national album charts in 1983. This was the height of their success and fame. Since there have been changes of membership (at one stage David Whitaker was a member- the older brother, I believe, of Nightmare‘s guitarist Gary) and splits, but Danse Society still continue in various forms. Paul Nash still records and plays under that name. Paul Gilmartin is still active as Danse Society Reincarnated. Lyndon meanwhile is a producer and maker of electronic and dance music, recording inter alia as Ultra Glider.
All of which is a long way from the Fifth Barnsley scout hut and the Centenary Rooms in Eldon Street. We’re all older and wiser, but proud too, I hope, of what our home town could produce. What I hope this account shows is what can arise from the conjunction of the right influences (recorded and live), the right opportunities and atmosphere and the inspiration that comes from the right combination of talents and personalities.
The soundtrack for the novel Freak or smoothy? is here: ‘Freak or smoothy?’- a soundtrack to the novel In 1979 I headed off to University as described in Rewind and edit, which s soundtracked here: ‘Rewind and edit’- the soundtrack