People Against Goodness And Normalcy

Bela Lugosi

Tomorrow I will be heading off in search of medieval bank and ditch enclosures, but tonight I’m listening to Bauhaus : Bela Lugosi’s Dead, in a ‘most haunted ‘style search of the goth skeleton lurking somewhere here in the virtual Puppy Mansions.

Note: I first heard Bela Lugosi played summer 1979 at series of gigs [ Echo and the Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes, Joy Division, Rema Rema, Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire] promoted by Colin Favor / Final Solution underneath Tottenham Court Road YMCA. Colin now a famous house music DJ, then a mate of Pete Stennett of Small Wonder.

And People Against Goodness And Normalcy = P.A.G.A.N. from the wonderful 1987 film “ Dragnet“… I still have my goat skin chaps. Pinki used to make me wear them and do the P.A.G.A.N. dance whenever we were invited to attend Pagan Federation gatherings. They stopped inviting us after a while.

Dragnet 1987 film

For all the talk of anarcho-punk, the biggest impact we all had on popular culture was to spawn the undead hordes of Goths… You don’t believe me? Then read this and weep/ laugh :

Exactly how “goth” became applied to the post-punk musical movement is unclear. The earliest use within the post-punk scene is likely to have been either by Martin Hannett, Joy Division’s producer, or by Siouxsie and the Banshees in the summer of 1979 (see below). By late 1979 and early 1980, the term “gothic” seems to have been fairly common in music journalism to describe bands such as Joy Division and the Banshees. In 1981 Abbo from UK Decay used the term “gothic” to describe the emerging band movement.

Then later, probably about 1982, Ian Astbury used the term “goths” to describe Sex Gang Children’s fans. On the surface, there seems to be a clear progression here, with the term gothic / goth being used to describe first individual bands, then a movement of bands, then the followers of that movement.

However, it’s not that simple. The term “goth” doesn’t seem to have been commonly applied to the movement until some time in 1983, several years after it had originally been used. In early 1983, the most common term for what became the goth movement was “Positive Punk“, or later “Posi-Punk”, courtesy of Richard North in the NME (February 1983).

Somehow, presumably sometime in 1983, the term seems to have been replaced by “goth”.

The first usage of the term “Goths” to describe the members of the subculture which I’ve been able to uncover is in an article by Tom Vague in the October 1983 re-launch issue of Zig Zag (under Mick Mercer‘s editorship).

Describing the audience for Death Cult’s Berlin show, he says “…and a pretty motley crew they are too. Hordes of Goths. It could be London…”

What seems to have happened is that the term “gothic” had been floating around, was occasionally used to describe bands, and eventually stuck. Alongside this, the fans of these bands were described as goths, probably as a result of comments about Sex Gang Children and their fans.

And there’ s more:

In an interview with Dave Thompson and Jo-Anne Green of Alternative Press magazine in November 1994, Ian Astbury, the vocalist in Southern Death Cult, laid claim to having invented the goth tag:
“The goth tag was a bit of a joke,” insists Ian Astbury. “One of the groups coming up at the same time as us was Sex Gang Children, and Andi — he used to dress like a Banshees fan, and I used to call him the Gothic Goblin because he was a little guy, and he’s dark. He used to like Edith Piaf and this macabre music, and he lived in a building in Brixton called Visigoth Towers. So he was the little Gothic Goblin, and his followers were Goths. That’s where goth came from.”

And again in an article entitled “The Gloom Generation,”by Suzan Colon which appeared in the July 1997 edition of Details Magazine:

” For a lot of people who had been in it a few years before, punk no longer resembled what they had originally intended it to be. Goth gave them a chance to establish another platform that was specifically theirs. This new scene attracted the dispossessed, a lot of punks living on welfare, shoplifting. Many of them lived in Brixton in the early ’80s because it was cheap.

There was one band called Sex Gang Children who dressed in a very similar fashion to Bauhaus and Specimen. A load of us used to hang out with their singer, Andi Sex Gang. He lived on the top floor of an old Victorian house. We’d go up there for tea, and he’d be in a Chinese robe with black eye makeup on and his hair all done up, playing Edith Piaf albums with fifteen TVs turned on. We had this vision of him as Count Visigoth in his tower, holding court. At the time, Dave Dorrell heard us calling Andi “Count Visigoth” and his followers “goths,” so that’s what he called everyone in the scene.”

This would be around late 82 /early 83 (when both bands were “coming up”) and thus post-dates both Hannett’s and Abbo’s use of the term “gothic”, but is probably the first use of the term “goths” to describe devotees of a certain type of musical style. Importantly, David Dorrell used to write for the NME…
Here’s a further quote from the same article:

“PETE MURPHY: I know that Bauhaus presumably started what the critics coined the “gothic” genre in 1979 with “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” but goth was a myth dreamt up by journalists sometime back in the ’80s to describe Bauhaus, Joy Division, Iggy’s vocal vibe on The Idiot, and so on. The music was often unaccomplished, but made up for it with a kind of transcendent quality.
DANIEL ASH: When we recorded “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” Bauhaus had only been together for four weeks. We never called ourselves or our music: “goth.” That was something that came a few years later from the press.

DAVID DORRELL: Oh, God, it all comes back! I won’t even try and make claims that I wrote an article and called them goths or whether I cribbed that off one of my fellow goth journalists — speed burns my memory. As a journalist, I noticed that the end of punk was starting to get darker. (John) Lydon was getting dark with Public Image Ltd. By committing suicide, Ian Curtis of Joy Division not only put an end to his own life and that of his band, but allowed a vacuum to occur into which all of these other bands scurried.”
Depite Dorrell’s memory lapse, it seems likely that Astbury was right and Dorrell picked up the tag from the description of Andi Sex Gang & co. Further confirmation of this is from an interview with Andi Sex Gang in an article by Gavin Baddeley:

Gothic lore identifies the Sex Gang Children vocalist Andi SexGang as the first Goth
, nicknamed “Count Visigoth” because of his flamboyantly dark dress sense, the band’s early-80s fans being styled “Goths” by association. “It was all unbeknownst to me – they called my place Visigoth Towers behind my back as it were” laughed Andi. “A couple of musicians I knew who lived round the corner –Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy early Goth faves Southern Death Cult[both in] coined the nickname I think, who mentioned it to a music journo called Dave Dorrell who then started bandying the “Goth” tag around. But “Gothic” had already been around for a while to describe various styles of music, especially Joy Division. For me personally the term Gothic refers to something a little more cultivated and classical than the commercial Goth you see about.”

I could go on, but I hope this is quite enough to stimulate a debate.

1 comment
  1. betab
    February 21, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    Ah happy(!?) memories of Attrition sparked by all this. Just recently rediscovered Martin Bowes and Julia Waller still making loads of darkside music I still want to hear Monkey in a Bin again tho’… must go and search the tapes

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